Women and Authority
Edited by Maxine Hanks

Chapter 12
Emerging Discourse on the Divine Feminine

[257] [The following statements and excerpts were selected from responses to surveys, interviews, and various publications. These represent only a few of the many printed and personal experiences relating to female deity in contemporary Mormonism. They encourage further survey and formulation, and suggest that larger works devoted to feminist theology and personal discourse on God the Mother are long overdue.]

The idea of a loving, caring female deity can play an important role in the therapy of troubled LDS women. Mormon women, particularly those who have been abused by a father or other male, can find that connecting with Mother in Heaven gives them additional strength to use in the healing process. People often began their conception of deity as a projection of their own parents, so when parents are abusive, it may be difficult to visualize and connect with a positive male or female image or archetype.

Identifying with a female god does not necessarily exclude connecting with a male deity, but allows women a conceptualization of a loving, nurturing female deity. This can eventually encourage re-connection with the male archetype in a positive way.

One of the most important resources LDS women in crisis can draw upon is a feeling of equality with males, including the Father in Heaven. Drawing upon a female deity can be a natural part of the process of psychological development. Women often times are not granted a role model of female power or identity. Mormon women are given a powerful, mixed message: we are told quite clearly that we are not men and we are not to strive to be like men or to want [258] their roles; on the other hand the god whom we are told to emulate and strive to become, is male. This leaves women lacking a clear sense of identity, which ultimately can lead to the abandonment of the female identity and to male-identification, or to acceptance of an identity of powerlessness and worthlessness.

—DEBBIE CHRISTENSEN
psychologist, Utah

… If the Mother and the Father are co-equal, co-eternal, are in fact one in a deeper and more mysterious way than the oneness of the Father and the Son, then she would be no less concerned for our spiritual welfare than is the Father … An increasing number of Mormon women testify to having heard her voice …

As a bishop of a singles ward, I have been painfully aware of how Mormon women suffer from not having a clearer identity of themselves as women … The idea of a Mother in Heaven is particularly meaningful to me. I was separated from my own mother in infancy and even though I lived with her for several periods during my early childhood, I never really knew her … My paternal grandmother … was killed in a tragic accident just after I was born … All of my life I have wished for that special love that only a mother can give … The lack of this love has left a giant absence in my heart.

Although I only have a vague sense of her identity, I am grateful to know that I have a Heavenly Mother who like the Father will wipe away tears from all faces. I would like to suggest that as individuals and as a church we open our hearts and minds, awaken our imagination to the possibilities that our Heavenly Mother holds for us. Let us celebrate her elevated place in our theology and teach others about her.

—ROBERT A. REES
Sunstone, Apr. 1990, 49-50

… In 1976 when I was teaching religion at BYU, I always gave at least one lesson relating to our Heavenly Mother. The response from the students was overwhelming; I frequently saw them weep in class as we discussed this topic. The revelations of the souls of these young people caused me to constantly wonder if the Brethren [259] in charge are really prepared for this generation. Our Mother is speaking to her children; if we listen, the hearts of the children will be turned to their Mother.

—JAN TYLER
Utah

If “like-begets-like,” then we, as women, shall certainly never become like God the Father. To whom do we turn for our perfected identity? Women in the Church have never had the blessings of a divine being of the same sex as a role model. My first yearnings in this direction occurred during pregnancy. I felt that surely no one could totally understand or explain my deep ongoing feelings like my God-Mother could. Yet, the slightest expression of this thought brought visions of patriarchal chastisement. Nevertheless, the question still remains. I can’t help but feel cheated about my lack of knowledge of “Her.” I wonder why she isn’t allowed to speak, to guide and direct and console her daughters.

—KAREN SORENSEN SMITH
Letter to the Editor, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought
9 (Winter 1974): 5

I was quite concerned when I heard about President Hinckley’s talk to the regional representatives. I obtained a copy and read it. I’ve always respected President Hinckley for his clear thinking and sensitivity to women. But I resented his equating prayer to the Mother in Heaven as being in the same category as apostasy. He totally ignored our individual right to revelation and to ask questions. I certainly don’t think my belief in Mother in Heaven is threatening to the church system.

We have taught our children to include the Mother with the Father in our prayers; my children did this at home and at church. At our ward conference, our stake president said that in our stake there was a problem with praying to the Mother in Heaven. He explained that there should be one authority or head of the church, one head of the stake, one head of the ward, one head of the family: in effect, if children don’t know who’s in charge, they get confused; having a female at the father’s side creates confusion. He said that believing in the Mother or including Her in our [260] prayers was of Satan. He instructed teachers to report any occurrences to the bishop, who would inform the stake president who would “take church disciplinary action.” I was stunned, and I was very upset.

Afterward I left the meeting, shaking. My friends asked “Are you ok?” This denouncement seemed directed at our family. I couldn’t believe the stake president’s lack of understanding. My husband decided to go and talk to him; he expressed our feelings about the talk and about the mother god. Afterward, my husband felt positive about their meeting.

We talked as a family about a compromise; we decided on using the scriptural “oh God in Heaven” instead of “Father,” “Mother” or “Parents” when we pray. This experience has taught me that I would give up my church membership rather than give up my belief of including the Mother in prayer. Also, going through this has given me a much deeper respect for my husband. I still don’t know what motivated President Hinckley to condemn praying to our Mother. They are attempting to take something away from us, but it is impossible to do that.

—MARY OLIVIA STANTON
Colorado

The church teaches that mothers are and should be the primary nurturers of their children; but the Heavenly Mother is kept exiled from her children. It would seem that the church honors motherhood on earth but not in the heavens.

—KAREN CRIST
Utah

When Christ gave instruction about prayer he said, “After this manner therefore pray ye …” NOT “With these words therefore pray ye.” Many Christians recite the Lord’s prayer as the perfect prayer. As members of the church, we use that prayer as a pattern rather than quoting it verbatim constantly. If someone suggested that I sew a suit after a certain manner, it would not be exactly like the original. It could very easily be a suit for a male or female.

—FALINE CHRISTENSEN
Utah

[261] In one of my favorite hymns, we sing that prayer is the soul’s sincere desire. But what is that desire? Do we all desire the same thing and in the same way? It would seem, listening to President Hinckley, that we can only desire God in one way … However, we all have very different experiences in life. As a child in Philadelphia, I was surrounded by relatives who spoke with German and Italian accents. The conversations at our family dinners were loud, the food was spicy, and the wine was very good … Because of our experiences, our pictures of deity are very different … I would bet if we had the time to find out, there would be as many different pictures as there are people. I believe there is a danger in insisting on any one way of seeing god.

Ann and Barry Ulanov write that “we hold onto our image of god in the face of God … and tyrannize over other people, trying to coerce them to see god as we do …”

In and out of Mormonism, men have identified with the gender of God the Father. In Mormonism there is a literal identification between their bodies and the body of God. And now women have begun to identify with God the Mother. It is an empowering experience to see your body in the body of God … Some of us pray to a mother god because we believe she is talking to us.

—LYNNE KANAVEL WHITESIDES
from “Finding Our Bodies, Hearts, Voices—A Three-Part Invention,”
University of Utah, May 1992

Possibly my finding and accepting the Mother came about because of a small tear in the veil. Maybe Eliza R. Snow made that tear by writing a verse in one of our hymns. Others reached through the tear and claimed the rightful power of women to bless and prophesy. President Wilford Woodruff said, “That hymn is a revelation, though it was given unto us by a woman—Eliza R. Snow. There are a great many sisters who have the spirit of revelation. There is no reason why they should not be inspired as well as men.” Finally, the tear has become a rending. Maybe all of the earnest striving for the feminine in the divine results from glimmerings through the opening in the veil, from rays of light shining and reflecting on those souls who have felt the pull that now is the time to open the veil enough to let the Mother through.

[262] Maybe the time has come for men—the patriarchs—to accommodate the feminine power, to be ready to work together to save our planet, our church, maybe even our souls…

—MARTHA DICKEY ESPLIN
from “Finding Our Bodies, Hearts, Voices—A Three-Part Invention,”
University of Utah, May 1992

I cannot deny the validity of personal experience with Mother God … Many members find it appropriate to thank both Heavenly Parents during testimony, or to use Mother-inclusive phrases … For example, the phrase “becoming like our Heavenly Father” would be more accurate as “becoming like our Heavenly Parents”…

My personal experience has led me to believe that increasing our awareness to include the Mother has a profound effect upon one’s world view. To view the parents as unified in their godhood provides a pattern for a non-patriarchal family order on earth, eliminating much excuse for unrighteous dominion. It gives us reason to explore the spiritual power women hold, to revise our views of women’s priesthood roles. The Divine Parents act as a symbol of the unification of the sexes and the diverse forces of the universe—a broadened sense of atonement. By opening our minds, we might discover that it is not the Mother who has been silent; perhaps we have been deaf. Is it she who has been hidden? Or are we remaining blind?

—BRYAN WATERMAN
from “Who’s Afraid of Mother God?” Student Review, July/Aug. 1992

… Today I had a chance to teach a lesson in elder’s quorum, so I chose #26 … The hidden premise in the lesson title, “The Role of Women,” is, of course, that there is such a thing as a single “role” for “women.” The lesson—by the usual … anonymous author(s)—assures the readers that we Priesthood holders treat women as “equals,” then proceeds to quote the statements of seven men relative to the subject. That there might be pertinent female opinion is not even considered! … The built-in bias of a male-creator God with women as chattel has four-thousand-year-old roots and is so deeply ingrained that even good men are oblivious to their prejudice and discrimination toward women. There is a long way to [263] go yet before true “equality” is achieved.

—LEW W. WALLACE
Letter to the Editor, Exponent II 13 (Summer 1987): 19

… What does it mean, to have “a form of godliness,” but to deny the power thereof? … Doesn’t it mean that we, as women, need to learn all we can about our godliness and begin to recognize and exercise the power associated with that godliness? … Why don’t we know more about our Heavenly Mother? … If She wanted us to know more about Her, then She has the power and authority to act for Herself in that decision … What Mother would withhold herself from her children? … .

How close and how personal an investment our Heavenly Mother has in us is evident in the Pearl of Great Price: “So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them.” … few of us consider Her active, creative, powerful participation in the creation of this world … Heavenly Mother is a creator. This is Her world. We are her daughters.

… Do not deny yourself your birthright … Speak with your own divine authority, live with power … Let us speak of Her, search for Her. Let us pray to Her and sing to Her … Let us return Her to Her rightful place … Let us bring Her and ourselves up into the light, out of darkness and out of obscurity …

—NADINE FAITH
from “Having a Form of Godliness,” Exponent II 11 (Summer 1985): 4-5

We don’t hear about Heavenly Mother; all we know is that we pray to a father and we have many mothers. The Father and Mother in Heaven are joined in celestial marriage, which is polygamy. This is something most LDS women are uncomfortably aware of but few will discuss. Why? It arouses strong emotion, feelings of ambivalence, jealousy, inferiority, subservience, anger, betrayal—some of the same feelings women experience when their husbands have an affair. We are expected to live this principle which just descends upon us when we die.

As I come to understand church teachings on celestial marriage, my marriage starts to feel as if it’s in jeopardy. We are told that we [264] will be eternal companions, but this is not a companion. My eternal companion will also be companion to how many others? Where is my position in that? My husband’s patriarchal blessing promises him “eternal increase” which means many wives and children. When I’ve tried to express to him how this upsets me—his response is “I can’t do anything about it.” That is not a response I want. There are no answers. I can feel myself pull away from him because I feel less than an equal partner. I struggle about investing in a future with my husband and family. And I feel like a hypocrite encouraging my daughter to date and marry in the temple when this is what she has to look forward to.

We are told to have faith and everything will be OK. Well that insults my intelligence. There is no fairness in this doctrine. Is there someone with knowledge and authority who has the answer to this painfully emotional issue? Are we as women expected to blindly embrace polygamy and not question our place in the eternities? This is not something that I feel can be equitably or impartially discussed by a man, regardless of his capacity for sensitivity. The church has promised single women that a husband will be provided for them. Don’t you wonder whose husband that will be?

—CONNIE JACOBSEN
Utah

… If I were to be allowed a five-minute conversation with God, I would seek simple answers to these complex questions: 1) Must a woman forego the joy of exaltation if she doesn’t attach herself to a worthy priesthood holder? 2) Is it possible for a woman to serve, to teach, to sustain, without doing so only as an echo of priesthood approval? 3) If women do not wish to be married eternally or to be the mother of myriads of spirit children, does this mean that she has failed as a woman? Is she automatically disqualified from exaltation? …

After struggling over the idea for a long time, I recently said out loud for the first time, “I do not want to be an eternal mother. I want to be a teacher.” I felt a great sense of relief. At least the thought was out in the open … I have no desire to usurp the power or authority of the priesthood … If it is truly mandatory for me to be sealed to a worthy priesthood holder to achieve exaltation, God will [265] take care of this at some future time … However, I still maintain as a personal belief that it just might be possible for a woman to achieve exaltation on her own merit, to serve in some capacity other than that of mother. Is it at all possible that women could serve eternally as teachers? After all, those millions of spirit children must have teachers.

—MARIE. L SORENSEN
“Sisters Speak,” Exponent II 13 (Fall 1986): 17

… Nineteenth-century Mormon theology shows a preoccupation with attaining power and status in the millenium and in heaven. The developers of our theology took at face value the scriptural references to being rewarded in heaven with crowns, thrones, and kingdoms … I think that Joseph Smith’s desires rather than God’s inspiration prompted the only unambiguous scriptural promise of kingdoms … Section 132 promises that those who marry “by the new and everlasting covenant” shall “inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions … Then shall they be above all because all things are subject unto them …” I believe that this theology has patriarchs ruling in heaven because patriarchs-to-be thought that, deprived of due recognition and power on earth, they deserved a truly grand reward in heaven …

I find this heavenly structure neither reasonable nor appealing. First, any kind of ruling hierarchy among celestial beings seems inconsistent with a God who loves us equally and who rewards us according to our faith and works, not according to our gender, marital status, rank in the Church’s hierarchy, or our progeny. Second, … elaborate layering of managers seems entirely unnecessary among people who are worthy of celestial life … Third, I can’t imagine that people worthy of the highest degree of the celestial kingdom would aspire to or even be interested in having status and power over other people …

In order to attain the highest rank and reward in this Mormon heaven a person must be married in the temple. The unmarried … are doomed to the fate outlined in Doctrine and Covenants 132: 16-17: “To minister to those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.” … Rather than viewing marriage as a precondition for the eternal reward of kingdoms in [266] heaven, I see a good marriage being its own reward in heaven just as on earth. Similarly, rather than viewing eternal singleness as a condition deserving eternal punishment, I see it as a condition with limitations … inherent in it. Surely there is more to being kings, queens, gods and goddesses than procreating …

Our theology currently gives women no hope that their participation in priesthood will ever be great enough to allow them to create anything but children. Some women might be excited by the possibility of providing the womb through which a never-ending stream of children would be born, but I am not. I don’t look forward to producing progeny while my husband is creating reptiles and planets and inspiring mortals to fashion reasonable governments and legal systems …

An essential part of this theology of marriage in heaven is polygamy. While it is unlikely that the Church will again promote polygamy in mortality, it is still a vital part of Mormon heaven … Eugene England has argued against heavenly polygamy, suggesting that it be dropped from our theology of heaven … Heavenly polygamy “is simply a way of saying that one good man is in some sense the equivalent of more women than one, however good … the implication seems to me to discredit women, to in some essential way reduce them to less than full equivalence with men.”

I can see how nineteenth-century American men, trying to conceive of a heaven, could construct one in which one man was the equivalent of a number of women. Nineteenth-century American culture was sexist and patriarchal … I can see no reason to let such a theology stand without protest. It can’t be any healthier for Mormon men to believe that they are inherently and eternally superior to all women than it is for Mormon women to believe that they are inherently and eternally inferior to righteous Mormon men. Yet as long as heavenly polygamy remains in our theology, these self-evaluations will naturally arise … Emily Dow Partridge, a plural wife to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, complained, “even our own people seemed to think that the Lord had given men plural wives for stepping stones for them and their first wives to mount to glory on.” The greater the number of wives and children a man has in heaven, the greater his power, kingdom, and eternal glory …

[267] Rather than seeing any compelling reason to think that we must populate heavenly kingdoms into existence so that these kingdoms can be our eternal reward, I see a compelling reason not to believe that god authored this system … It is hard to match the language used by nineteenth-century Mormon men talking about their own heavenly future, with the Mormon concept of God … He is most commonly “Heavenly Father,” an intimate deity … I am not instructed to perceive myself as another person to be dominated to add to his personal power …

… The temple ceremony presents Elohim, Jehovah, and Michael sharing creation duties … So not only is Mother in Heaven not a participant in creating the light, the darkness, plants and animals, she gets no credit for the one kind of creating allowed her … Everything that deity does is credited to God, to Christ, or to the Holy Ghost … Authority, both temporal and eternal, is linked to priesthood, a power that our Mother in Heaven apparently is without or possesses only in a limited way, because she is female …

I can see why nineteenth-century Mormon men would envision a Mother in Heaven as a bearer and nurturer of children, for these were the primary roles American society allowed women … But I can’t see any reason now to let such a degrading concept of the female deity continue to exist without protest. Mother in Heaven is … faceless, nameless, unavailable-for-theological-purposes … Our theology has allowed her no authority nor power …

Unless we can begin to see mortal Mormon women as significant in their own right, we will never see our Mother in Heaven as significant in her own right. She will only have significance because of the male she married or sired … I am not asking that we project a 1980s-vintage female executive into heaven and call this Mother in Heaven … I would prefer that we project no model of womanhood into heaven to define her. Instead, since revelation often comes when questions are asked, I am encouraging church authorities to ask for revelations about her …

I can’t change the reality of what heaven is. My wishing, hoping, and needing won’t make it what I want it to be. But neither does Brigham Young’s nor Joseph Smith’s. I believe that they and other Mormon males projected their own needs and desires into heaven, and that their heaven probably does not resemble actual heaven any [268] more than my idea of heaven does. I reject much of their vision of heaven because it is destructive. It is based upon the notion that males are the truly significant beings … [and] reduces all others to minor characters in these males’ heavenly lives …

To make the Mormon heaven into something that rings true, that could reasonably have been structured by a God who loves us equally and fairly and who wants the best for each of us, I would simply make it less specific. Rewards would be based on faith and works, and each righteous person’s reward would provide her or him with happiness. All people could continue to enjoy the company of those who were important to them on earth and could form emotional bonds with whomever else they chose … Each person would be valued for her- or himself, not for family ties, function, or earthly hierarchical position.

[I] encourage church members and leaders to rethink our theology of heaven. The nineteenth-century Mormon men who fleshed out the theological skeleton provided by scriptures and revelation fleshed it out according their own cultural prejudices … But their prejudices and their needs should no longer be misread as representing heavenly reality: they are time-bound, not eternal. It is time to reject those aspects of Mormon heaven that are uninspired, unreasonable, unfair, damaging, and serve no virtuous end.

—MELODIE MOENCH CHARLES
from “The Need for a New Mormon Heaven,”
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 21 (Fall 1988): 73-87

The picture forming in my heart was of a big beautiful New England farmhouse; [it] represented the church that I grew up in. One night, I discovered that my room was simply gone … Couldn’t some accommodation be made in the house I grew up in? No, I am powerless to affect a change in the overall structure of the house itself. And the problem of course does lie within the very framework of the house, in the theology which built the walls and floors and ceilings and doors, which says that the highest gospel covenants and ordinances are categorically unavailable to single people, most especially to single women … As it now stands, the two central institutions with[in] the church are the priesthood and the family. Where do people like me fit into “God’s special plan”? …

[269] Marriage/Single; Family/Childless; Priesthood/Woman. There just doesn’t seem to be much overlap there. For me, the Family of God has turned out to be God’s collection of nuclear families…

—CELESTE WILLIAMS
Utah

… Being a single member who has discussed the issue with a number of bishops and misinformed home teachers and visiting teachers who naturally felt sorry for me (being barred from glory and eternal childbirth and all), I might point out that though marriage may be, doctrinally, necessary for godhood (the highest degree within the Celestial Kingdom), it is not necessary for entrance into the Kingdom. Whatever its place in the stratigraphy of the contemporary Church, marriage is a requirement neither for personal wholeness nor spiritual “holiness.” I think the distinction is a significant one.

—ELIZABETH WILLIS
“Letters to the Editor,” Exponent II 10 (1985), 3:20

I couldn’t go … to a role model that I am unable and unwilling to strive for—a feminine shadow behind a “worthy Priesthood holder; the admonition to become like my Brother, Jesus, and my Father in heaven … How can I put all my faith and trust in a Being that seems to function without an active, equal feminine counterpart? How do I pray for guidance to a God … who may be omniscient while still having no real concept of all the many feelings and experiences that are uniquely female?”…

—KATHLEEN JACOBS
“Letter to the Editor,” Exponent II 13 (Summer 1987): 18

The concept of Mother in Heaven fascinates me … I have ultimate faith in Her and in Her love for me, but sometimes I feel like an adopted child waiting on sealed records to be opened.

—LINDA SMITH
California

I think she is kind of like an angel, or maybe like a ghost.

—TIMOTHY JOHNSON
age 5, Massachusetts

[270] Having been born and raised in Hawaii (35 years), I seem to have always had the presence of the Mother with me in some conscious form. Living in Utah these last 21 years, sometimes I feel as if I’m on a mission in her behalf. The stone goddess in Utah is weeping and longs to be lived. That’s the key: she must be lived and experienced. Her humility and naturalness coupled with her light, the fire of her love and the truth seem to be the reconciliation of all opposites. I experience her as new revelation for these times, a new archetype of the new creation. We have been given the keys to understand her in the temple. The laws of her kingdom are exact; mercifully so, or we would be dissolved in the light, before we were ready. To know Her is to die to all we think we are so she can grow us into who we really are.

In my own experience of her, she is at one with the male and respectful of the priesthood. I know now (I didn’t years ago), that she is my eternal higher self. Her initiations are at once archetypal and very personal. I know this is so for each of her children. I’ve never felt it right or had the need to pray in public (church) to her. Her work is so inner; and so much seems to be done in sacred silence (but this is just my personal opinion). Truly becoming as a little child is the path to her heart. It is Christ that takes us on this path and opens the door to her house.

—JANET WYMAN
Utah

In 1960 I received my patriarchal blessing. I believed God would give me a personal outline of my life. The patriarch spoke a phrase that I had never heard before: “It is your right and privilege to be ordained a Queen and a Priestess.” When I heard these words, I glimpsed an Eternal Female. She was wearing flowing robes. There was a glow surrounding her as she sat in a posture of power and majesty. Her regal demeanor did not overshadow the love and compassion I felt coming from her. I was very aware of this heavenly being’s desire to reveal herself to me. My soul thrilled at this revelation and I knew two things: this was my Heavenly Mother and her glory was my potential also. There were no other beings revealed in this vision. I had come hoping for a model of my life, and because of grace I received my ultimate model.

[271] This is the first time I have shared this experience. I guess you could say I’m coming out of the closet. I used to think these things were meant to be kept secret, but the older I get, the more I feel that women need to share their experience so we can all be edified and strengthened. It seems to me all scripture is personal revelation that has been shared.

I need more than whispers, more than the logic of “truth is reason, truth eternal tells me I’ve a mother there.” I want the reality of our Heavenly Mother to be embodied in the accepted revelations of the church so She can be openly loved and worshipped alongside the Father and the Son. The vision of male perfection offers men permission to be complete. Because women look into a void, we often grope, make mistakes, and finally look within ourselves or to each other for direction and clarity. It is a difficult struggle.

In the early years of my marriage, I gave my husband too much visible power and used mine manipulatively instead of openly and honestly. Shared power is still a challenge for us, but we are learning to balance it. As we share power with our children, they exercise it and grow in responsibility and maturity. God, along with the Son and the Holy Ghost, does all the parenting on the earth; yet, the matrix of femaleness is the creating, nourishing and sustaining of life. I would like to see God share power with females.

I feel angst about Heavenly Mother. The church’s restriction and denial have been a thorn in my side. She is waiting to be born in us, and through us. She first must be conceived in our minds and hearts. This is a gestation period—to consider her, to make a physical space, to anticipate changes, to be willing to go through pain to bring about new life. As we prepare to accept our Heavenly Mother, the idea takes on flesh and form. My own faith has been stretched like a pregnant belly. The incubation has been prolonged and wearisome. I’m ready to give our Heavenly Mother her place. Praying and fasting for this spiritual draught to end is worthy of our efforts. I believe that it is the privilege of Her daughters to ask for Her to reveal Her glorious and perfected self.

—NANCY FREESTONE TURLEY
Arizona

… I have only recently, after many years of searching, begun to [272] resolve my feelings about the female element in the Godhead … Late one Sunday afternoon, I attended a baptismal service for a young woman in our ward … One bright, promising young woman startled me as she spoke on the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Ghost,” she said, “can only be in one location, yet its influence can be felt among all the children of our Father in Heaven at any given time.”

Something moved inside me. Her statement seemed to me the purest definition of a mother I had ever heard. While a mother can physically be in only one place at one time, her deepest desire is for her influence to be among all her children wherever they may be, whispering to them, to guide them, protect them, and help them to choose wisely. Would it be wrong to think of the Holy Spirit as the female element in the Godhead? …

—BARBARA ELLIOTT SNEDECOR
from “On Being Female: A Voice of Contentment,”
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 25 (Fall 1992): 155-63

Oh I had such a pretty dream, mamma,
such pleasant and beautiful things;
of a dear little nest, in the meadows of rest,
Where the birdie her lullaby sings …
A dear little stream full of lilies,
crept over the green mossy stones,
And just where I lay, its thin sparkling spray
Sang sweetly in delicate tones …
And as it flowed on toward the ocean,
Thro’ shadows and pretty sunbeams,
Each note grew more deep, and I soon fell asleep
And was off to the Island of Dreams …
I saw there a beautiful angel,
With crown all be-spangled with dew;
She touched me and spoke, and I quickly a-woke;
And found there, dear mamma, ’twas you.
She touched me and spoke, and I quickly awoke;
And found there, dear mamma ’twas you…

—“Songs of Zion,” 1918, no. 184

A starting point for feminist theology is to look at what early [273] Mormon women were taught. They certainly had a stronger sense of their rights and power than modern Mormon women do. They had independent control over the Relief Society, they used the priesthood to perform miracles, and at least one sister was taught privately about her Mother in Heaven, making us wonder what else was taught that was not written down…

On the other hand, women had to reconcile all this with the doctrine of polygamy, which blatantly contradicts the doctrine of equality. It is clear that polygamy ultimately dominated their feminine theology … [It] eclipsed the other feminist theology of independence and finally won out.

Now we are back to reconstructing a feminist theology. It is not only necessary; it is inevitable. Women throughout the Church demand answers to their questions about the traditions that prevent them from reaching their full potential …

While the entrance of women into the highest priesthood order in the temple may form a basis for feminist theology, there are many gaps left to fill in: the exclusion of women from the administrative priesthoods must and will be dealt with by our brethren, just as the exclusion of Blacks had to be dealt with. Other female concerns, such as who our Mother in Heaven is and what she does, will be answered. These answers will flesh out our skeletal feminist theology. We only need to keep asking.

—PAM BOOKSTABER
“Sisters Speak,” Exponent II 13 (Fall 1986): 18

To discuss feminist theology, both terms must be defined. Feminism is a belief that the sexes are equal. An active philosophy of feminism is only necessary where there has been, and still is, inequality between men and women. Theology is the rational interpretation of the interaction between god and humankind. To me, a feminist theology would consist of the belief that women and men are of equal value to their Father in Heaven and have equal potential in His eyes. It would also include that they are equally responsible for their own development through the use of free agency …

If a modern LDS feminist theology is to be articulated, the most likely place for it to be found is in the remarks of the prophet or his representatives at the General Women’s Meeting … In the 1985 [274] meeting, President Hinckley listed ten rights and responsibilities of women. These included teaching religious and secular topics; presiding in women’s organizations in wards, stakes, and the general Church; prophesying; serving as full-time or local missionaries; being endowed and married in the temple; serving in the temple; and educating and developing themselves. It is especially interesting to note that in the list of ten gifts, marriage is number seven and motherhood is number nine…

Yes Virginia, there is an LDS feminist theology … With some gentle nudges, a great deal of patience, assistance from “the Brethren … someday it will be unnecessary to have a feminist theology …

—SUE HAWES
“Sisters Speak,” Exponent II 13 (Fall 1986): 16

“What kind of a being is God?” inquired Joseph Smith. “I will tell you & hear it O Earth! God who sits in yonder heaven is a man like yourselves … [King Follet Discourse].” … He also said, “If men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.” Mormon women are saying, “If I do not comprehend the character of God the Mother, I cannot comprehend myself.” They are asking, “What kind of a being is she?” From Mormon theology there is one thing we can conclude: she is a woman like us; she has a woman’s body … Joseph Smith, after asking what kind of a being God is, asked his congregation, “Have any of you seen or heard him or communed with him?” For Mormon theology this is a very important question. God must reveal himself or we have no knowledge of him. Must we then wait for a revelation of the Mother before we have any knowledge of her? The answer is both “Yes” and “No.” … Comprehending ourselves is as vital to comprehending God as comprehending God is essential to comprehending ourselves … And we should not assume that there has been no revelation of the Mother or that waiting for her to reveal herself need be entirely passive …

I believe that a serious acceptance of the knowledge of the existence of God the Mother requires us to re-examine and reinterpret our doctrine of the Godhead. I also believe that such a re-examination must be firmly grounded in the scriptures … Both the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants teach that some [275] revelations have been withheld. The Book of Mormon tells us of revelation given to a few, which the prophets were not permitted to write or which they were commanded to seal up until a later time, and the Doctrine and Covenants speaks of knowledge “that has not been revealed since the world was until now; a time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest” (D&C 121:26, 28). One God that has not been manifest is the Mother. Surely this is a promise that she will be revealed …

We find the Mother in the scriptures … wherever they speak of the Holy Ghost, but of course, they do not identify the Holy Ghost as our Mother. When will she be revealed? … In Revelation 12:1, John described the Divine Mother. “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.”…

As the time for the revelation of the Mother draws near we should expect that some people will receive visions or voices or feelings which manifest her presence and her mission … To worship God means to acknowledge that the being we worship is God? … Whether or not we should worship the Mother, then, depends on whether or not we know her and know who she is. We have not been commanded to worship her as we have God the Father… he is the transcendent God, while she is the immanent God … No one can allow us or forbid us to worship her. We simply do.

We also worship God through rituals or ordinance … We as Latter-day Saints only need to re-examine the ordinances given us through Joseph Smith to see that she is present in all of them … The temple ordinances, as Margaret and Paul Toscano have shown us, symbolize both the sacrifice of Christ and her veiled presence …

Jesus taught that doing the will of God is more important than formal worship … If we want to worship the Mother, we must do the work of the Mother, and if we do the work of the Mother, we worship her. Her work is the same as his work. They are one God … “He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of god” (D&C 46:30) … In its most fundamental sense, prayer is a reaching out for God.

—JANICE ALLRED
from “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother,” paper

[276] Some have the idea that the mother goddess is the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost or Sophia. Others see this deity as an epicene dyad (Male-Female composite being) as in the Gnostic texts. My theory is that we have a presidency of three exalted, resurrected Mothers in Heaven who have lived on this earth. Edward Tullidge and Eliza R. Snow called them a trinity

Many descriptive names have been applied to Her: the Universal Mother, Matronit or Lady, Mother of God, the Shekhina, the Nursing Mother, Asherah, Ashtoreth, Grove, the Female, Rauch, Light Woman, Mother of Zion, Mother of Seven and Twelve, Holy Temple, the True Light, Mother Rahel, Mother of Israel, Moon, Hart, Mother of us All, Wisdom (Sophia), Night, Sacred Womb, Blessed Bride of God, Supernal Woman, Queen of Heaven (Regina Coeli), Sea, Morning Star, Perfect Vessel, Well, Pearl, etc. I believe we should look for historical identities as well …

Eve’s name-title, Hawvah, according to Genesis 3:20 means “The Mother of All Living.” She was, according to Edward W. Tullidge and perhaps Eliza R. Snow, “The first person in the Trinity of Mothers.” She also played a significant role in the Plan of Salvation. Tullidge proclaims Eve’s willingness to lay herself on the altar for her children’s sake: “Did woman [Eve] hesitate a moment then? Did motherhood refuse the cup for her own sake, or did she, with infinite love, take it and drink for her children’s sake? The Mother had plunged down, from the pinnacle of her celestial throne, to earth, to taste of death that her children might have everlasting life … Eve partook of that supper of the lord’s death first. She ate of that body and drank of that blood” (Women of Mormondom). Her act is couched in sacramental terms. She has suffered more from these consequences than the male descendants of Adam …

While Joseph Smith prayed with Zebedee Coltrin and Oliver Cowdrey on April 19th, 1834, they experienced a vision. Zebedee reported that the blue sky and heavens opened and they saw a man and a woman sitting upon thrones: “Joseph asked if we knew who they were. We answerd ‘No.’ Joseph said, ‘That is father Adam and mother Eve.’ Their heads were white as snow, and their faces shone with immortal youth.”…

Tullidge and Snow theorized: “Turn we now to Mary, the mother of Christ … From the First Eve to the Second Eve, to find [277] the grace of woman’s nature spreading abroad in her Jesus, for the salvation of the world.” The theologian, Origen, in a similar vein called the Virgin, the New Eve, the mother of the New Adam. Mary’s child, the Savior, puts their redemptive roles in a reversal to the Fall. As a second Eve, she played a significant part in the Plan of Salvation. Mary held the unique status as “Theotokos Dei Genetrix” or “The God Bearer.” As Mother of God on the earth, she was also proclaimed Mother of God in heaven (Nicean Council) …

Orson Spencer, LDS Chancellor of the Deseret University, in January of 1853 forwarded a uniquely Mormon “hieros gamos” concept; “Had the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ a wife? Yes. Who was she?—Mary: and blessed above all women and highly favoured of the Lord.” Mary was sealed to God the Father. Brigham Young added, “The man Joseph, the husband of Mary, did not, that we know of, have more than one wife, but Mary the wife of Joseph had another husband.” Mary as Heavenly Father’s wife becomes a Goddess …

The Catholic concept of Mary (Regina Coeli) being a co-meriter with Christ for the Salvation of mankind is not known to the Latter-day Saint. But in both Roman and Orthodox churches Mary plays an advocate role to the Father just below that of Christ. This, is the “tender Mediatrix of Grace” view. There is a Catholic tradition that Mary partook of the Passion of Christ while she witnessed her Son being Crucified. Her suffering would make her an empathetic partner with the Father. The Joseph Smith translation of Luke reads, “Yea, a spear shall pierce through him to the wounding of thine own soul also; that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” For Mary to have any intercessory power it would be necessary that she experienced at least some of the suffering of her son. While neither she nor the Magdalene were present at Gethsemane, both grieved near the cross. Here the two Mary’s souls were wounded and compassionate to the “thoughts of many hearts.” They become Mater Dolorosa, our mourning mothers and wives. That they would plead for us is altogether fitting and natural …

Mary is not an intercessor to the Father, but with Him for the salvation of mankind. She lent her voice with that of Eternal Father, both reasoning with Justice, in the Son’s name that mercy might prevail. Together they were mighty to save, while still maintaining [278] Justice’s equilibrium. In this respect Mary is the “Mirror of Justice”.

I suggest her equality with the Father is very much like that of Jesus Christ’s equality with Heavenly Father. God the Father is more ancient and venerable, but Mary and Christ have done more for the salvation for this generation than He, thus they have some ascendancy. The exaltation of Mary to the empyrean heaven, the Father’s bridal chamber, is important to Latter-day Saint theology …

When this planet becomes a celestialized world, reigned by Christ, who will be His consort? The best candidate is Mary Magdalene. Mark notes, “… he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.” It may be that Mary Magdalene was not “possessed” but rather this episode related to her conversion or an initiation (marriage?) rite. Magdalene, some have suggested, might have been involved with “The cult of Istar or Astarte, the mother goddess and ‘Queen of Heaven.’ … Prior to her affiliation with Jesus the Magdalen may well have been associated with such a cult.” This “cult” may have referred to sacred ordinances performed for her at her marriage in Cana to Jesus. She may have been initiated into this mystery or ordinance by Jesus Himself.

Some have incorrectly identified her with the woman that was brought to Christ on charges of adultery. But this occurred in Jerusalem, and Mary Magdalene was converted while Jesus was in Galilee. The intentional transmogrification of the Magdalene and the worship of Mother Mary into “the Whore and the Virgin myth” has produced many, far-reaching negative effects.

All four gospels mention Mary Magdalene being at the crucifixion. Her anointing of Christ with the pungent ointment at the feast of Bethany may have been, in a sense, an ordinance similar to the washing of the feet in the LDS second anointing ceremony.

The hagiology of Mary Magdalene is deep and diverse, especially during the Middle Ages. As many Roman Catholic cathedrals were dedicated to the “Madeleine” as are dedicated to “Notre Dame”. “… the cult of the Magdalen, as it was promulgated during the Middle Ages, would have arisen—and been confused with the cult of the Virgin … Many of the famous “Black Virgins” or “Black Madonnas” were, early in the Christian era, shrines not to the Virgin but to the Magdalen—and they depict a mother and child. It has also been argued that the Gothic cathedrals—those [279] majestic stone replicas of the womb dedicated to “Notre Dame”—were also, as Le Serpent Rouge states, shrines to Jesus’ consort rather than to his mother. (Holy Blood, Holy Grail)

It is noted in the Gospel of Philip that there was a feud between the President of the Church, Peter, and Jesus’ spouse, Mary Magdalene. The Gospel of Mary describes a similar event where Mary is explaining some doctrinal point, “But Peter loses his temper: he suggests that Mary has herself imagined what she is relating; at which she bursts into tears. Levi interposes to defend her.” The conflict between Peter and the Magdalene, if it really existed, possibly split the Church between the “adherents of the message” and the “adherents of the bloodline.” (This is not unlike the split in Mormonism between the “Brighamites” and the “Josephites.”)

The apocryphal Gospel of Philip claims, “And the wife of Christ is Mary Magdalene. The Lord loved Mary more than all the disciples and kissed her on her mouth often.” Wilford Woodruff recorded, “Joseph Smith spoke upon these passages to show that Mary and Martha manifested [a] much closer relationship [with Jesus] than merely a believer.”

Just how elect Mary Magdalene was is shown in St. Andrew’s reminder to an irritated Apostle Peter, “For the Savior has known her thoroughly enough and loved her more than us.” In the Pistis Sophia, “Mary,” he praised, “you blessed one, who shall be inducted into all the ordinances from on high. Speak openly, whose heart is more directed toward the kingdom of heaven than that of your brethren.” Again, “And it happened when Mary [Magdalene] had ended her words, He said, ‘Excellent, Mary, for you are blessed above all women on the earth, because you will be the fullness of all fullness, and the completion of all completion.” Pistis Sophia also notes: “But Mary Magdalene and John, the virgin disciple, shall surpass all my disciples and all men who will receive the ordinances of the unspeakable. They will be on my right hand and on my left, and I am they and they are I …” The word Mary means “exalted one” and in the case of the Magdalene, one could use the term to mean the “most exalted one.”

When the Lord chooses to endow women and men with the Holy Order of the Priesthood, then our perception of who our Mothers in Heaven are and their roles as queen, intercessor and [280] comforter shall become clearer. And as Brigham Young once noted, “… and when we go through the veil we shall know much more about these matters than we now do.”

—VERN G. SWANSON
from “Our Mothers in Heaven”

Why is She not talked about more by the Brethren? “She is not essential to our salvation.” We do need Her; but like many other precious truths that are essential to our exaltation, they only come to us through study, prayer and revelation.

I discovered in the Nag Hammadi translations that there were numerous references to a male and female God and Goddess who created children, created the Plan of Salvation and chose Jesus to be Redeemer. It was not until the Second Century A.D. that the female symbol for God the Mother began to disappear from the sacred writings. By the end of Constantine’s reign, all references to a Heavenly Mother had disappeared; only the male symbol of god the Father and god the Son remained. Thus began the time of isolation from god the Mother that lasted until the restoration of ancient writings.

It is in the temple that I am able to begin to understand a clearer picture and essence of Heavenly Mother. To me, Her presence is most profoundly felt in the initiatory ordinances. It is there that I feel her power which is greater than I can comprehend. I think that Her Priesthood is the “Fullness of the Priesthood.” I really believe that this power is accessible to every female, regardless of her married or single status. It is right there. We are promised it. It is within our grasp.

I envision my Mother in Heaven to be a mature, feminine woman. She knows me and loves me as an individual. I encourage all of you who are searching for our Heavenly Mother to go to the temple. I sincerely believe that she is there. To learn just a little about Her is to glimpse the innate power that is in all of us, that She is waiting for us to discover.

—KAREN A. ANDERSON
Minnesota

I feel that God exists as a pure form—I don’t think God has any [281] type of a color or ethnic origin. God the Father and the Mother are both a pure form of being. I think the Mother in Heaven is equal to the Father in every aspect, in intellectual strength and physical strength.

Navaho culture has a matriarchal society, meaning that mothers pass their name onto their children. The tribal name that children carry on is the name of their mother’s line; the way the clans or tribes are identified is by the name of the family of the mother. For example, my mother is from the Big Water clan (T’o Tsoni), and her mother was from the Big Water clan, and I am from the Big Water clan also, from the same household. It is like receiving the tribe of Manasseh in the patriarchal blessing, except that it is the matriarchal lineage—so my tribe is Big Water. My father is from the Salt tribe because his mother was of the Salt tribe, while my brothers are from the Big Water tribe like our mother.

I’ve always looked at the Mother in Heaven in that sense; that I am from her tribe, whatever tribe she is from. I have always known and respected that sense of her; I don’t question that she has never been mentioned, because I already know that she is, and that I am of her tribe.

—JULIE MCCABE
Arizona

Mormon women, like all women, need an archetype that will give them more significance than that of wife and mother. Mormonism may be unique in its belief in Mother in Heaven, but she is not used to build up women … She is supportive, a nurturer, and subordinate to the ultimate male creators. Therefore, Mormon women’s potential is seen only as being a procreator and nurturer.

I know that women’s potential is much greater than this, and so a new archetype which opens women to their potential is necessary. I am saddened that the Mother in Heaven found in Mormonism is not really one worth sharing, but I do find hope in the acknowledgement that a Goddess is a possibility. At least the groundwork has been laid, so perhaps this notion of the Goddess can be re-created in a way that will be significant to women …

At present, the masculine archetype is totally overpowering the feminine archetype … By reclaiming the Goddess, we will [282] not destroy or make God any less important; both are relevant to all humanity. I look forward to the time when both the God and Goddess will be harmonious, but I realize that this can only happen “when … men can be freed from the fear of the devouring feminine … when women can be freed from subordination to the patriarchy.”

—CATHERINE JOHNSON
Canada

I did not know that so many other Mormon women felt as I did. Heavenly Mother has begun a great work with Her children and … [we] are a part of it. It is the mothers and women of this earth who will bring about peace. The coming years should be very exciting ones.

—ALETA FERNANDEZ,
MWF Newsletter, Mar. 1990

From the dark warmth of mother, I came into her rocking arms and her song. When I asked, … “And who made God?” she wasn’t sure. “And did God have a mother?” “I don’t know.” “Why don’t you?” “Some things you will have to find out for yourself,” she said, and sent me out to play. But I had so many questions. I get to thinking sometimes about those galaxies and those stars and about God. How did he get there? … Where did God want us? Did he want me to be quiet? What are we to be like? Like Jesus? But Jesus was God’s son, not his daughter. How could I be created in the image of God if he was a man and I am a woman?

—The Questioner, Exponent II

To Brother Hinckley I would like to suggest that our Mother in Heaven will answer the prayers of her daughters just as swiftly as our Father in Heaven responds to his sons. She opens her outstretched arms to the sisters and eventually the whole Heavenly Family will sit together in equal council … In the meantime, it would speed up the process if the women in the congregation could address themselves not only to the “Father of the Ward” but, if there was also across the hall, an office for the “Mother of the Ward.” The Relief Society president does not need to work “under” the priest[283]hood, she could be truly “equal” by choosing her own counselors, setting up her program needs … She could counsel on child abuse and incest by seeking direction from our Mother in Heaven …

One could research the scriptures for the interplay of femininity and masculinity in the Savior, in his personality, in his parables, in his actions. His essence was androgynous. It’s time to move from the emphasis on power to self-restraint, from firmness to flexibility … True femininity and true masculinity do not exist separate from each other but in continuous interplay. It’s high time to put the spotlight on the feminine in the worship service of Mormons; we are two centuries behind in prayers to the Christian Mother. Let the spirit of God the Mother rise in Mormondom; she wants to speak!

—MIMI IRVING
Utah

I find myself relieved and excited that there are other women in the Church who are searching and changing in areas heretofore unexplored … I am one of those who has seriously considered herself alone in the need for feminine influence and opportunity in the Church. I have recently corresponded with President Gordon B. Hinckley and signed my name because of my extreme frustration with our male-dominated culture … I feel that my core belief system of Father-God and mother (always lower case) is radically altering. My letter was obviously full of anger and frustration as I boiled over regarding several issues, all bound up under the heading of “patriarchy.” … I have since been called in by my bishop and stake president and told that though there are no answers other than the pat ones I was objecting to, that I needed to return to the scriptures and focus all my energies back into the Church. If the answers ever come, I was told, they will come through the Church and “we would hate for you to miss out.”

I feel that if there is any church that is close to the truth, it is ours, but there needs to be room for other avenues of thought. I seem to threaten the status quo, and there is so much invested in keeping things the same.

—MICHELLE CARTER

MWF Newsletter, Mar. 1991

[284] Veils
Loving you
I moved naked
before the mirror of your heart.
trusting you.
But after awhile
my limbs slowed
as if in a chill wind—
And turning to you in wonder
I saw your heart
reflecting a distortion
which I could not recognize
as my
I AM.
Now I clothe myself
in the sacred veil of silence,
still loving you.
And dance naked only before God.

—GAY N. BLANCHARD
MWF Newsletter, Mar. 1991

… For my part, I view God as an evolved me … Why can’t I listen to my own divinity? … Sooner or later Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven, traditionally assumed to be Christ, but who I suspect is the Divinity within us, will chase me “down the nights and down the days” and “down the arches of the years” and catch me up, and I will have to listen.

—GAY TAYLOR
“If I Were God,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 22 (Spring 1989): 106-13

My quest is of fairly recent origin. I came from a large Mormon family, 10 children, of pioneer stock. I had good parents and good church leaders, and served a mission in France. I have always been very active in the church.

As I’ve been in leadership positions, I have found that many male leaders like an intelligent, dynamic woman—up to a certain point. When said woman tries to push, she is firmly and sometimes [285] not very kindly set in her place. I have had several unpleasant episodes with threatened bishops and their counselors. I went back to school for a master’s degree in counseling and started admitting to myself that a lot of what goes on with our male leaders makes me angry.

Some Mormons feel that the Godhead consists of the Father, the Son and the Holy Mother. This makes perfect sense to me. In my mind, I think of my Mother and Father in heaven and my brother the Savior as a heavenly trio, with my Mother giving inspiration. When I pray privately, I say “Mother and Father,” and at home I’m teaching my children, ages 13, 11 and 8 to do the same.

One thing that has helped my quest is that my husband is on a somewhat parallel path. It is amazing the difference these new insights have made in the attitude he takes toward me, his mother and other women. He has always been a good man, but now I feel there is a new, additional understanding and respect.

I feel that unless the church makes a place for our Heavenly Mother, thinking women will continue to leave the Church. We need our Mother!

—ROZAN GAUTIER
California

I think Mother in Heaven is like my earth mother. My mother was the most wonderful mother. She only lived to be 69 years old, but because I have lived five years longer than her, I think of her daily. As I accomplish things, I think she is enjoying them too. When I’m asked to pray in Sacrament Meeting, I always open with my “Mother and Father in Heaven.” My Heavenly Mother is equal to my Heavenly Father.

—PHYLLIS FORD
Utah

I was called to be Relief Society president. I felt that the presidency had been doing too much work, so I called fifteen women to serve on a board. Some people were upset about the changes I was making and I was afraid of failing. I asked my husband to give me a blessing. As he blessed me, he said he felt that Mother and Father in Heaven were concerned about sisters in the ward. There [286] was a very strong feeling of a presence during the blessing. I sensed the presence of Mother and Father on either side of me; they were both holding me. She was stroking my head and comforting me. They communicated to me that they loved me and wanted me to succeed. Whenever I think or speak of God, it is them.

—JODY ENGLAND HANSEN
Utah

I graduated from nurses’ training in the 1920s and nursed my mother, who was bedridden, until she died. I was twenty-three and a single woman, and had no place to go, so I married the first man I met. He took me to the temple, but never was faithful to me. He beat me and our two boys, then left me, and I had to find work. This was during the Depression and being divorced at that time was really hard. People used to say hateful things to me. I worked part-time when I could.

I used to go to the temple twice a week, and sometimes I would sit in one of the empty sealing rooms and pray to Mother in Heaven to help me through those times. I knew that She was there, watching over me. I felt that She understood better than anyone else about my situation and would give me Her blessings. And they came, just as I asked. We always had food on the table and clothes on our backs and a roof over our heads.

Whenever I think of Her, I see Her sitting in my mother’s rocking chair by a fireplace, Her long hair flowing down around Her shoulders. Her shawl is drawn around Her and I sit at Her feet, with my head on Her lap. Her warm and tender hands touch my face with their love and I know that whatever I have to bear, She is there to comfort me.

Last night I had a dream. I was in the temple, but it was very dirty. I had a broom and was sweeping the floors because the men had gone through with muddy boots and got the floors dirty. I got out the bucket and scrubbrush and was on my hands and knees scrubbing the floors to get them clean. There were a lot of floors to scrub and I was unhappy that the whole job of cleaning fell on my shoulders. I remember after finally finishing some rooms, I moved into the last one to clean, and there was a personage inside who spoke to me. The Savior smiled at me and expressed His gratitude [287] to me for cleaning His house. Then I awoke, and the dream has stayed with me all day long.

—EFFIE LEWISTON
age eighty-seven, Salt Lake, Utah

I am a Mormon woman. I guess. I became inactive because I’ve felt a lack of place as a woman. I’ve come to the conclusion that the men of the LDS church have a profoundly distorted view of the nature of women. We are viewed as the source behind the evil men do, beginning with Eve; or as incomplete and thus unable to mature, so we must be guided in the ways of righteousness much like perpetual little children; or as super-spiritual creatures who are to be put on a pedestal and worshipped from afar. Whatever the category, there is no common ground between men and women from which to communicate. And women’s needs are being neglected. They don’t understand the nature of women, and so they cannot hope to understand our needs.

I am reminded of a time I offered a cup of coffee to a ragged man. He often begged change at the 7-11 near my west side apartment and I had come to regard him as a familiar sight. One day, I bought a cup of coffee for him without asking if he wanted it. When I offered it, he said, “Oh no, thanks, I just had a cup.” When I pressed him further, he put me off with a simple, natural dignity. Without understanding his needs, how could I possibly meet any of them? My intentions were as good and as misguided as those of the “brethren.”

The force which speaks to my spirit most often these days is a woman. Her anger is my anger. Her fear is my fear. Her search is my search. I have not yet found this woman. I sit here and am powerfully touched by someone more than these women. I have an image of myself locked in a garden, overcultivated to the point of sterility; I’m struggling to speak past severed vocal cords, and there on a white, marble wall is the howl of Lydia, “I WILL NOT BE SILENT!” written with lipstick, the color of fresh blood.

—LAURA STEELE
Utah

I had been brought up to believe in God the Father, yet I had so desperately wanted there to be a woman God as well. The [288] Mormon Church offered Her to me and I took it. At 22, I became a part of the Mormon heritage believing what they had taught me. “This church is not sexist, we even have a female god in Heaven.” How I searched for Her, I prayed somewhere, somehow I would find Her.

In preparing for the temple, my mother-in-law told me that the temple was where she felt closest to our Mother in Heaven. My moment came, but nowhere in the temple did I feel that Mother in Heaven was extolled, explained, revealed or honestly acknowledged. I wondered why no woman’s voice was heard when both male and female were together. Women were clearly delegated to be silent helpers, their only power and authority was that which was ordained to them through the priesthood. The message I received was—in order to receive the blessing of becoming a priestess, I must fulfill my role on earth by being the bearer of children and a faithful servant of god via the counsel and revelations of male Priesthood. Once I heard a testimony by a woman missionary; she spoke about her feelings relating to Heavenly Mother. Within a few moments of her starting to speak, the Priesthood leaders on the stand became restless; within five minutes they whispered for her to stop. Later, she came out of the Branch President’s office crying. The message was clear: this young woman had overstepped some invisible line—we were not to speak openly about our Heavenly Mother. This Mother in Heaven became an enigma to me.

The following week the branch president interrupted Relief Society and reiterated that Mother in Heaven was not a doctrine to be openly discussed; we were to have faith that all would be revealed. Women are not to have access to their mysterious Mother in Heaven. Men have constant access to their role model and Father. Women receive counsel about their lives from men; women have no access to a female role model. This has always sat heavily in my heart. I am denied the very thing I was assured.

I now recognize the feelings I had during my search for my Mother in Heaven. They were feelings of being controlled and of being fearful—fearful of losing an elusive prize that could be mine only as long as I obeyed my husband and the other priesthood bearers.

My own image of a Woman God was a strong-bodied, strong-[289]minded, strong-willed yet tender woman, a woman who was unquestionably equal with her partner, a woman who could and would communicate with Her daughters. My image of Heavenly Mother was inspiring and empowering. The Mother in Heaven offered by the Mormon church is controlled by man. Men have subjugated Mother in Heaven and women to the same subordinate role in the church.

—ANNE BOND
New Zealand

She was with other people when I saw her. They were clustered around her. She was a vivacious person. I knew they were drawn to her. Amazing, unselfish love radiated from her and was like spring to a land which had known only winter, rain to a thirsty land which had never known water. The way she was listening to and helping all so wisely, so quickly, seemed beyond the human course. She seemed young, in her late twenties or early thirties; she had dark hair and eyes, and joyful love leaped from her. She seemed to have immense resources, reserves, and was fearless, confident that goodness and joy were flowing out through her to renew a tired world. She accepted gratitude and admiration from her followers without arrogance or discomfort. When she was tired, she fell instantly and without guilt asleep to revive later and continue. She had no children of her own, of her body, but she loved little children and understood them and had time to dandle them. There was no regret in her.

It became clear that her powers from God ran as deep as her love and were as unfathomable. My respect and admiration bordered on adoration. She was not like any other woman I could remember. I reflected that my own feelings for her were not those toward a mother, wife or daughter. As close as I could define it, she was like an older sister of whom I was very, very proud.

I confessed to her, “Were you a man, I would think you were the Son of God, Jesus.”

With a smile that dimmed the sun, she replied, “I am the daughter of God. He is my Brother.”

I asked, “Will you also go his course?”

Without sorrow or hesitation, she stated, “I will.”

I woke up with a start, so vivid and real the dream had been. I [290] feel that it was a true dream. It persuades me all the more to believe in Jesus and to desire to be filled with and radiate the love which comes from Him.

My wife suggested that I was seeing a vision of true womanhood—what a woman endowed with power is like. I think it is all that. I remember learning that if we met one of those who receive of the fullness, we would be truly tempted to worship such a being. I remember her telling me her name but I couldn’t hang onto it. I am waiting, with full confidence that this isn’t the end of the story, and to learn more.

—DAVID D. ALLRED
Utah

One evening while I was praying to know Heavenly Mother, my mind was filled with this thought, “you already know her, for you know yourself.”

At that moment I understood that I know her because I know and feel and see intuitively what my own full potential would be. I sensed that our Heavenly Mother is the perfect embodiment of female virtues. She is wise, understanding, loving, peaceful, patient, delightful, fun, intelligent, confident, courageous, a leader, a follower, assertive, a decision-maker, a female comfort, mighty, and powerful as she stands in her full equal glory next to our Heavenly Father.

I also sensed that she eagerly awaits her place in our spiritual lives. She is there but only those who ask will know it.

—SUZANNE WERNER
Arizona

When I had my third child, certain circumstances challenged me to the point of desperation. I began to ask hard questions about God’s role in my life. A woman friend told me, “Your answers are inside you—you just need to find them.” I began to seek spiritual knowledge more earnestly than I ever had before. During the next 2 or 3 years, information about female spirituality, sources of female power, and female deity began to fall almost like magic into my hands. I was led to other women whose quest corresponded with my own.

[291] I suspect that many Mormon women keep their experiences and convictions of the female god private, separate from the male-dominated institution of the church. Though we continue to participate in that institution and can still grow spiritually in it, we have found it difficult to declare openly that we have been enriched and empowered through the divinity of the female.

There is evidence that Joseph Smith understood both priesthood and godhood as encompassing both the male and female. And there is potential encouragement from church authorities for us to open ourselves to revelation from the divine female: “Every member of the Church independent and irrespective of any position that [s]he may hold is entitled to get revelation from the Holy Ghost; [s]he is entitled to entertain angels; [s]he is entitled to view the vision of eternity and if we would like to go the full measure, [s]he is entitled to see god in the same way that any prophet in literal and actual reality has seen the face of deity” (Bruce R. McConkie, BYU fireside address, 11 Oct. 1966). These words tell me I am entitled to know my Mother in Heaven. The love and strength between me and my mother, my sister and friends who nurture and sustain one another, create a female bond that testifies to the reality of female spiritual power. The divine female is a separate being as powerful in her own way as able and eager to nurture, bless and teach me as god the father is in his.

I believe in communicating with Mother in Heaven through praise and prayer, claiming her gifts, and administering in Her name. Integrating her into my life as an active Mormon has led to many good things in my family life, my career, and my sense of self. I believe we have a responsibility to know Her, name Her, call on Her; the church needs Her and us. If enough of us acknowledge her openly, then LDS women will no longer need to hide our experience, our convictions, our woman-centered spirituality. It is my experience that if we seek her, She will nurture us.

—JULIE J. NICHOLS
Utah

My serious contemplation of God the Mother began in 1980 as I was reading the Book of Abraham. I admired Abraham, and I wanted to be able to be taught by the Lord and to know all of the [292] wonderful things he had learned. I knew I had a Mother in Heaven, but what did she know and what did she do? To be valued only for my physical capacity to bear children would only value me as part of a person. I eventually talked to my stake Relief Society president and stake president; and although both were kind, neither one understood the question, “Why don’t we know more about our Mother in Heaven?”

I know now that there were women in the church in 1980 that were asking and beginning to resolve these questions for themselves. And even if I had known where to find them, I’m not sure I would have sought them out. This was during the immediate aftermath of Sonia Johnson’s excommunication (1979) and I had a fear or at least a caution about people that asked questions on issues that concerned women. I didn’t really understand yet what had happened to Sonia and what might happen to me if I opened this “Pandora’s Box.” The fear and pain were so great that I was not even able to articulate any of my questions.

Toward the end of 1989, I began the process of uncovering and examining my questions. I was not yet ready to answer the questions my four daughters would undoubtedly raise regarding the value of being female and a member of the LDS Church; the risk of having my daughters choose to leave the church because of these questions is very real. I concluded that for me to be prepared to guide them to adulthood, it would be best if I had begun to answer some of the questions myself.

I came across an article published by the Mormon Women’s Forum, entitled “Reflections on God the Mother” which showed me that there were other women in the church asking the same questions and coming up with answers. The final catalyst for me was Carol Lynn Pearson’s play, “Mother Wove the Morning.” I was afraid it might reopen my wounds, yet I was hopeful that it might help me begin to heal. The play did have a healing effect and since that time I have begun to develop my own belief about God the Mother.

My pain has ebbed and now I continue to define my image of her. I don’t claim a clear understanding of the nature of god. I have contemplated it and found a description elusive. I envision her suffering with womankind as we endure the particular trials of being a woman in this life. She also seems to be sad because she has been [293] ignored by her children. What I know about God the Father I know about God the Mother. Possibly they work together on tasks to be completed. I see learning about deity as a process that will continue to evolve and grow. I continue to search and receive each new morsel of insight as they allow me to bring my picture into focus.

—RONDA CALLISTER
Utah

The first incident I remember was when I was about 14 years old. I was praying upstairs in my bedroom. I was very upset about something—I don’t remember what about. I was distraught. I very distinctly felt the comfort of someone’s arms around me. I felt it calm me down and I was very peaceful. I went downstairs and told my mom. At the time I recognized the feeling, but I didn’t have a name for it. It was a distinctly female presence. To this day, I don’t think I had even heard the name Mother in Heaven, except for the song “Oh My Father.”

Since that time I’ve felt very close to her; I pray to her, I talk to her, I turn to her. Sometimes I pray only to her, sometimes only to Father. Just like my parents—if I want to talk to them, I talk to them. I also know that I have a responsibility to testify of her; if I don’t, I know I will be held accountable.

Many examples are out there—if you seek her you will find her. Some people seek her but I don’t know how much they really believe she will connect with them. Often as Christians we say to those who don’t believe in Christ, “if you look for him you will find him.” And that’s my message: if you look for her you will find her; she is there. To hear that we’re not supposed to talk about her or pray to her—that’s like saying—“Don’t talk to your mom anymore.” That is not something I can do. I think it’s clear in the scriptures that she is waiting for us to seek her.

—TIFFANY SMITH
California

When I think of my Mother in Heaven, all sorts of possibilities come to mind. I think of a mom like my own mother, or “aunts” like my grandfather grew up with in a polygamous family. I think of a majestic, formal being. And I realize, too, that my finite brain can’t [294] even imagine what might be.

I suspect that a great many people will be surprised when all is revealed. Things may be different from what we expect. Observing the world around us, there are all sorts of people, life forms, all sorts of possibilities. Which of the forms we have observed in nature will also continue in the next realm?

I have observed in my schooling that often a framework of categories is set up in which to teach things. As one’s knowledge grows, the lines between categories become fuzzy, and sometimes disappear. You realize those lines were drawn to enable your mind to grasp the concepts. Then, as you advanced, that structure was no longer necessary; you progressed beyond the point where you needed the framework to aid your comprehension.

I believe God is greater than our finite minds can comprehend. It is possible that as there is great variety on earth, and in human nature, there might be even greater variety in the next life. It is possible that the framework we see now may actually be a learning device, aiding our minds to understand what we can. As we learn more and move forward; there could be all sorts of possibilities. So we should have open minds, prepared to receive whatever may be revealed. The limits of our mortal brains should not limit the possibilities comprehensible to a celestial mind.

I believe in being curious and trying to learn what I can. If we have not developed our minds, if we have not learned to think, how can we be ready to accept more knowledge?

—KATHY MORTENSEN
Utah

Throughout my childhood, my concept of a heavenly parent was colored by my feelings about my earthly father, who died when I was eighteen months old. I will always have a sense of how it felt to sit on his lap with my head against his chest and his arms around me. I will always miss him. As a little girl, I remember praying to god and feeling that my earthly father intercepted the prayer, listened to me, and helped me.

I have always sensed God as a female presence. As far back as my memory will take me, I remember feeling the absolute truth of the phrase “truth eternal tells me I’ve a mother there,” but never [295] daring to speak of my feelings. I kept them safe, inside myself. This statement is a tragic one: We cannot let those most important to us know who we are. We must wear a mask and dance the dance or we will not be loved. We will not be acceptable.

The concept of female deity feels comfortable and familiar. Out of a need to protect my self, I have distanced myself from the church of my heritage and all organized religion. There is something that feels very wrong about the control of what others believe, about the idea of teaching spirituality.

When I let myself be quiet, and listen—listen to the feeling in my gut, I experience spirituality. When I respond to my voice within, confusion disappears. I feel strength and wholeness. I have clarity. I feel the truth of my life. Perhaps this experience is God. And so, for me, if God has gender, God is female.

—CONNIE DISNEY
Utah

I entered my daughter’s bedroom to find her intently drawing with pencil on the flyleaf of her Book of Mormon, the one she had been given in Primary. When I began to scold her for writing in her book, she interrupted to explain, “But Mommy, I’m drawing a picture of Heavenly Mother.”

I came over for a closer look at her picture. She continued to explain that the book already had a picture of Heavenly Father (it was actually Jesus), so she needed to put in Heavenly Mother too, as though the book was incomplete and needed to be finished.

On the page opposite her drawing of the Heavenly Mother, she had drawn a rectangular shape and I asked her what it was. She answered, “Heavenly Mother’s door.” I was touched, and paused before asking her why Heavenly Mother has or needs a door. “She just does,” my daughter answered.

So, my little girl has seen the door, too. I thought I had opened it so wide for her that it was not so noticeable to a five-year-old. But that door has been shut often enough in her short life that I should have known she could see it. One Sunday her Primary teacher reprovingly told her to pray only to Heavenly Father. Another time, she came to me in tears when a Primary child told her to stop talking about Heavenly Mother because there isn’t such a thing. My heart [296] breaks for her when that door is closed, so I will always work to open that door again and again until it can never be shut between our Mother and us.

No man, no matter what his title, can invalidate in any degree that which we know from our personal experience with our Mother God. No male-interpreted scripture can abdicate our sacred birthright as Her daughters. We have a personal relationship with Her, and can no more deny Her importance in our lives than that of our Father God or our Savior Jesus.

The words of Christ could as well be uttered by the Mother: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”

—ANDREA MOORE EMMETT AND ERIN EMMETT
Utah