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Heavenly Mother

By: Steve Fleming - May 10, 2014

Okay so here’s another section of my dissertation, this one on Heavenly Mother.  It’s part of a larger chapter on Smith’s plan of salvation.  It’s taken out of context somewhat and make several references to W. W. Phelps’s “Paracletes” that I examine in the next section.  But it was getting a little long, so I think this section with suffice.  Happy Mother’s Day.

God Has a Wife. In his “Paracletes,” William Phelps referred to pre-mortal spirits living with their “father and mother in heaven”; a few months earlier Phelps declared, “O Mormonism! Thy father is God, thy mother is the Queen of heaven,” in a letter to Smith’s brother William.[1] This was the first printed reference to what would become one of Mormonism’s distinctive doctrines: Mother in Heaven.

There is no recorded statement from Smith on the subject, but many of his followers later said that he taught the idea.[2] Such a claim would be in accord with Smith’s teachings: if God underwent the same process as humans and if eternal marriage was necessary for deification, then it would make sense within Smith’s system for God to have a wife. Jane Lead used Plato’s metaphor from the Symposium of men and women being split apart and then seeking to come back together for both Adam and God.

God Created Adam … who was to represent God himself, the High and Divine Masculine, Male and Female; so that Adam had his Virgin in himself in imitation of his Creator, which in Time was brought forth in a distinct Figure. And this was a Type of the Eternal Virgin Mother that lay hid in God, the Centre and Heart of Flaming Love; from whence the production of a Glorious Female Figure was brought forth; that was so commixed and mingled with Deity, as she became God’s Spouse and Bride, being Spirit of his Spirit.[3]

Again, Smith used the Symposium concept in his proposal to Mary Lightner (Chapter Five) and if God was to go through the same process of being united to his female half, then he needed a wife as well.

The Queen of Heaven was a reference to Jeremiah chapters 7 and 44 that said that Jews in Jerusalem and Egypt would make offerings to her and “unto other gods.” Phelps made this connection explicit in his letter to William Smith: when referring to a pre-mortal coronation of Christ, Phelps declared, “In fact the Jews thought so much of his coronation among Gods and Goddesses; Kings and Queens of heaven, that they broke over all restraints and actually began to worship the ‘Queen of heaven,’ according to Jeremiah.”[4] Jeremiah condemned such practices and Phelps suggested that such worship was overreach, but the fact that Phelps believed that such beings really did exist and that they were good and holy demonstrates the Mormon tendency to read the Bible in unorthodox ways. In Agrippa’s discussion of multiple gods in the universe (see above) he referred to “the whole militia of Heaven, which Jeremy calls the Queen of Heaven, that is the power by which the heaven is governed, viz. the Soul of the World.”[5] Agrippa not only read the passages in similarly unorthodox ways but also situated the passage within Plato’s Timaeus with his reference to the World Soul. Andrew Michael Ramsay was also explicit in linking the Queen of Heaven with the Timaeus in The Travels of Cyrus. In Ramsay’s description of the Phoenician’s cosmogony, he listed the trinity of Belus (the high god), Adonis (the son) and Uriana (the mother). In the myth, the World Soul and human souls come out of Uriana and are sent to planets just like they come out of the mixing bowl and are similarly sent in the Timaeus (seebelow). Yet Ramsay then had Uriana fall (a notion found in the Phaedrus not the Timaeus) and become Astarte, the Queen of Heaven, before falling further and needing redemption.[6] Other Christian Platonists would also locate discussions of Heavenly Mother within the Timaeus, particularly Jane Lead; Phelps did the same in his “Paracletes” (below).

Phelps’s reference to the Queen of Heaven in addition to Agrippa’s, Ramsay’s, and Lead’s (and Phelps’s, see below) linking these themes to the Timaeus drew on a long heritage of Christian Platonists drawing links between biblical goddess references, Plato’s World Soul or mixing bowl, and the Holy Ghost. Christian Platonists had long equated the Holy Ghost and the World Spirit.[7] In The Travels of Cyrus, Ramsay listed a number of father-mother-son trinities in addition to Belus, Uriana, and Adonis and the idea that the Holy Ghost was Christ’s mother was popular in early Christianity: in the lost Gospel of the Hebrews, the Holy Ghost called Jesus her son at Jesus’s baptism.[8] Augustine referred to the belief that the Trinity was “completed in the marriage of male and female and in their offspring” and that “the third person as of the Spirit, is, they say, the woman,” and that “by her conception that the offspring was born.”[9] Augustine, however, rejected the idea; in doing so, argues Barbara Newman, “Augustine sealed the doom of the [divine] familial metaphor for nearly a thousand years.[10]

Yet the notion of the divine mother survived in the West, largely in the person of Wisdom. The goddess Wisdom appeared in a number of to Jewish Wisdom texts including Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus, and the Wisdom of Solomon that spoke of Wisdom as a female companion to God.[11] In Ecclesiasticus 24, Wisdom declares, “I came out of the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth as a cloud. I dwelt on the high places, and my throne is in a cloudy pillar.” Wisdom goes on to say that the “Creator of all things … created me from the beginning before the world, and I shall never fail.”[12] Clement referred to Wisdom as mother when he commented on the Fifth Commandment, which he read allegorically.

And it clearly announces God as Father and Lord. Wherefore also it calls those who know Him sons and gods. The Creator of the universe is their Lord and Father; and the mother is not, as some say, the essence from which we sprang, nor, as others teach, the Church, but the divine knowledge and wisdom, as Solomon says, when he terms wisdom ‘the mother of the just,’ and says that it is desirable for its own sake.[13]

“The medieval goddess theologies cannot be understood apart from their roots in Christian Platonism,” argues Barbara Newman.[14] Medieval Christian Platonists spoke of other goddesses such of Natura or Dame Amour; Mary also had a divine status. Wisdom as a goddess remained important in the Middle Ages and Christians continued to use Wisdom literature. Wisdom texts became part of the liturgy devoted to Mary, in which the officiator read sections of Ecclesiasticus 24. “By the later Middle Ages,” notes Barbara Newman, “every priest or religious community celebrating daily Mass could be expected to affirm once a week that Sophia/Maria was ‘created before the ages.’ The long-term theological impact of this proclamation cannot be overemphasized.” Soon devotions were written to Wisdom, the most popular of which was Henry Suso’s Horolgium Sapientiae or Clock of Wisdom (1334), which was the second most popular devotional text in the Middle Ages (second only to the Imitation of Christ).[15]

Mother Wisdom remained the most popular form of the divine feminine in the early modern period. Jacob Boehme spoke of Sophia, which then influenced John Pordage and Jane Lead.[16] Most of Lead’s visions were of Mother Wisdom. Lead described her first visionary experience as follows:

there came upon me an overshadowing bright Cloud, and in the midst of it the Figure of a Woman, most richly adorned with transparent Gold, her hair hanging down and her Face as the terrible Crystal for brightness, but her Countenance was sweet and mild. At which sight I was somewhat amazed, but immediately this Voice came, saying, Behold, I am God’s Eternal Virgin-Wisdom, whom thou hast been enquiring after; I am to unseal the Treasures of God’s deep Wisdom unto thee, and will be as Rebecca was unto Jacob, a true Natural Mother; for out of my Womb thou shalt be brought forth after the manner of a Spirit, Conceived and Born again.[17]

Lead influenced both Ann Lee of the Shakers and Conrad Beisel of the Ephrata cloister, both of whom believed in Mother Wisdom.[18]

Furthermore, as discussed in Chapter Three, the Book-of-Mormon tree visions, particularly the tree-of-life vision, allude to tree visions in Ezekiel 18 and Revelation 12 that represent the tree as a mother. Asherah was the divine mother tree in ancient Israel, along with Wisdom and the Queen of Heaven.[19] One way or another, Smith seemed to pull goddess notions from the Bible in addition to possible influence from Agrippa, Lead, and Ramsay.

 

[1] [William Phelps], “Paracletes,” Times and Seasons 6 (May 1, 1845): 892; William W. Phelps, “The Answer,” Times and Season 5 (January 1, 1844): 758.

[2] David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” BYU Studies 50 no. 1 (2011): 70–97. Later that year, Smith’s plural wife Eliza R. Snow published her poem, “My Father in Heaven,” which contained what is considered the founding statement of the doctrine: “In the heav’ns are parents single?/ No, the thought makes reason stare;/ Truth is reason—truth eternal/ Tells me I’ve a mother there.” Eliza R. Snow, “My Father in Heaven,” Times and Seasons 6 (November 15, 1845), 1037. Snow’s poem became a popular Mormon hymn and the Heavenly Mother doctrine also became popular.

[3] Lead, Wonders of God’s Creation, 31-32.

[4] Phelps, “Answer,” 758.

[5] Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, 491.

[6] Ramsay, Travels of Cyrus, 255-65.

[7] Barbara Newman, God and the Goddesses: Vision, Poetry, and Belief in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 138; M. D. Chenu, Nature, Man, and Society in the Twelfth Century: Essays on New Theological Perspectives in the Latin West. ed. and trans. by Jerome Taylor and Lester K. Little (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 69.

[8] J. K. Eliot, ed., The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation Based on Mr. R. James (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 10.

[9] Augustine, De Trinitate, 12.5-6.

[10] Newman, God and the Goddesses, 248.

[11] Newman, God and the Goddesses, 190-92.

[12] Ecclesiasticus 24: 3-4, 8-9.

[13] Clement, Stromata, 6:16.

[14] Newman, God and the Goddesses, 61, 291.

[15] Newman, God and the Goddesses, 197, 207-11.

[16] Harris, “Theosophy of Jacob Boehme,” 72-73 99-101, 194-97.

[17] Jane Lead, A Fountain of Gardens Watered by the Rivers of Divine Pleasure ad Springing up in All the Variety of Spiritual Plants; Blown up by the Pure Breath into a Paradise Sending Forth Their Sweet Savours and Strong Odours, for Soul-Refreshing (London J. Bradford 1696), 1:18.

[18] Newman, God and the Goddesses, 317; Julie Hirst, Jane Leade: Biography of a Seventeenth-Century Mystic (Aldershot: UK: Ashgate, 2005), 141.

[19] William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2005). The book focuses on Asherah, but Dever discusses the Queen of Heaven (230-35) and Wisdom (301). See Daniel C. Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 2 (2000): 16-25.



2 Comments

  1. Cool. Wasn’t it Erastus Snow that preached in Utah that God was comprised of a male and female component? I seem to remember somewhere someone talking about that and neoplatonism. Do you look at the Utah-era expansions of Mother in Heaven?

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 11, 2014 @ 9:42 pm

  2. J. I don’t go into the Utah stuff (a few exceptions). Try to focus on Joseph Smith but with a goddess being important to Christian Platonism and that being kind of a fun Mormon idea, I wanted to say something about it in the diss. This probably wasn’t very clear, it’s sort of piece of a bigger puzzle. Anyway, hope the whole thing makes more sense.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 11, 2014 @ 11:31 pm