Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Meaning of "Mother Food" -- Examples from Poetry and Myth

While working on my book, I went back and forth on the title. When "Mother Food"  came to mind, it instantly struck me as right. It conjured up images of creation and feelings of wholeness.

I googled the name. This was 2003, and I found the name only in studies from China in which "mother food" meant, simply, the nourishment of the mother. Today, a similar search brings up many more references from different cultures, to describe to the mother's diet.

Carl Gustav Jung said that in our dreams and art, the ocean often represents the source of life, the mother, the womb, as well as the subconscious mind.  

In the same way, "Mother Food," to me, represents the source of life, the sustenance of life, and the interconnections between good food and the survival of our species, as well as the quality of our existence and culture--beginning with pregnancy and birth of every child.

In Hinduism, the lotus is called "padma," and "Padma" is also the name of a mother goddess of the harvest. In Hinduism, the lotus represents the creative womb of the universe. Out of the lotus, which resides on the "Great Water," (ocean) the universe is born. The root of the lotus is also used in India to increase milk production. I do not believe that such connections are  coincidence. Plants that increase milk production are frequently part of the imagery and tale of religions. 

 In world mythology, I have found many examples of galactagogues that are associated with mother goddesses, affirming to me that "Mother Food" (lactogenic foods and herbs) are historically linked to the "Great Mother." In many instances, these foods and herbs are used to make beverages that increase milk production. For instance, barley, the sacred grain of Demeter, the ancient Greek goddess, was used to make barley water, a renowned galactagogue. Often, the same drink used as a galactagogue was also used in religious rites, sometimes combined with hallucinogenic herbs. This was the case with Demeter. Barley water was combined, most probably with poppy, and used in her rites that were said to give visions of the afterlife.

Another example: pulque, the fermented juice of the manguey cactus, is used traditionally in Mesoamerica to enhance milk production. Pulque itself is pale white, and looks like mother's milk. Pulque is also sacred to the breastfeeding mother goddess Mayahuel, who lives within the cactus. Mayahuel was called a goddess of many breasts, and was sometimes depicted breastfeeding a baby. 

Pulque is also associated with the Great Mother Goddess of Mesoamerican tradition, and was used, with added, hallucinogenic ingredients, in her sacred rites.

In the writings of Lao Tse, the great Chinese mystic philosopher, I recently found an English translation of a verse that refers to mother food that I find particularly inspirational.  

Point of beginning is always there, it is the motherfood.  
Door to the birth, it is the root of the world. 
Babies exist, yet motherfood is not exhausted. 

An understanding for the meaning of Mother Food is rooted deeply in traditional cultures. Mother Food is an archetype for the inexhaustible source of life that for a baby is represented by breastmilk, and for a mother by the foods and herbs that promote the production of her breastmilk while maintaining her best health.  

Deny that Mother Food exists (as is still commonly the case in the west), trivialize its importance for the mother and the baby, and the interconnection between food and optimum health and the development of human society is blurred at best.