Heavenly Mother

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In some sects of Mormonism, Heavenly Mother (also called Goddess, Mother in Heaven, or God the Mother) is the wife and feminine counterpart of God the Father.

Many sects of Mormonism disavow belief in a goddess. However, the doctrine is accepted semi-officially by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Utah-based church that is Mormonism's largest denomination. Members of this church generally, though quietly, believe in the existence of a Heavenly Mother; however, they do not usually worship her, and they generally address their prayers to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ.

Contents

Origin of the Heavenly Mother doctrine

The doctrine of the Heavenly Mother is attributed to Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, who soon before his death in 1844 outlined a revolutionary and controversial view of God that differed dramatically from the modern Christian consensus. See King Follett Discourse; Smith (1844). Smith's new doctrine included the belief that men and women can become gods and goddesses in the afterlife by following church practices (see Exaltation), an idea that logically implied the existence of a Heavenly Mother.

Although there is no clear record of Joseph Smith teaching the Heavenly Mother doctrine publicly, several of Smith's contemporaries attributed the doctrine to him either directly, or as a consequence of his new theological doctrine. An editorial footnote of History of the Church, 5:254, presumably quotes Joseph Smith as saying: "Come to me; here's the mysteries man hath not seen, Here's our Father in heaven, and Mother, the Queen." In addition, a second-hand account states that in 1839, Joseph Smith had told Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young, one of Smith's plural wives, after the death of her mother, that "not only would she know her mother again on the other side, but 'more than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven'." See Wilcox, p. 65 (1987).

In addition, members of the Anointed Quorum, a highly select spiritual organization in the early Church that was privy to Smith's teachings, also acknowledged the existence of a Heavenly Mother. See Wilcox, pp. 65-67 (1987); Orson Pratt, p. 292 (1876); Wilford Woodruff, pp. 31-32 (1875). Also, the Times and Seasons published a letter to the editor from a person named "Joseph's Specked Bird", (possibly a wife of Joseph Smith), in which the author stated that in the pre-Earth life, the spirit "was a child with his father and mother in heaven". See Joseph's Specked Bird, p. 892 (1845).

In 1845, after the murder of Joseph Smith, the poet Eliza Roxcy Snow, one of Smith's plural wives, published a poem entitled "My Father in Heaven", (later titled "Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother", now the popular Latter-day Saint hymn "O My Father"), describing the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother. See Eliza R. Snow (1845); see also Derr (1996-97); Pearson (1992). This hymn contained the following language:

In the heavens are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare.
Truth is reason: truth eternal
tells me I've a mother there.

Some early Mormons considered Eliza Snow to be a "prophetess", and Latter-day Saint President Wilford Woodruff (a member of the Anointed Quorum, believed that Snow had obtained this understanding though her own revelation. Later, however, LDS President Joseph F. Smith (a nephew of Joseph Smith, Jr.) explained his own belief that "God revealed that principle that we have a mother as well as a father in heaven to Joseph Smith; Joseph Smith revealed it to Eliza Snow Smith, his wife; and Eliza Snow was inspired, being a poet, to put it into verse." (Wilcox at 65.)

Acknowledgement of the doctrine by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not formally acknowledge the existence of a Heavenly Mother until 1909, in a doctrinal statement on evolution by the First Presidency marking the 50th anniversary of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, where the doctrine was stated indirectly. See Smith et al. (1909). The Church also later acknowledged the doctrine in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, where the Church stated that each person is a "spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents". Other references to the Heavenly Mother doctrine can be found in Latter-day Saint speeches and literature. See, e.g., Hinckley (1991) (encouraging Latter-day Saint women not to pray to the Heavenly Mother).

In general, Latter-day Saints and some other Mormons today believe that God the Father and Heavenly Mother once were mortals, and that sometime in the past they became the immortal, spiritual parents of the human race.

Elaborations on the Heavenly Mother doctrine

In general, the Heavenly Mother doctrine "is a shadowy and elusive one floating around the edges of Mormon consciousness". (Wilcox at 64.) Though widely held by Mormons, the doctrine is not advertised by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some Mormon apologetics, however, have attempted to elaborate on the doctrine, in party, by borrowing from early Hebrew theology, which arguably included a Hebrew goddess, the consort of Yahweh, variously named Asherah, Shekinah, the Queen of Heaven, or Sophia. See, e.g., Bickmore (1999).

Some Mormons identify the Heavenly Mother as being the Holy Ghost, sometimes citing Gnostic documents referring to the "Trinity of the Father, Mother, and Son", and the Apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews, where Jesus Christ is reported to say, "My mother, the Holy Spirit took me just now by one of my hairs and carried me off to the great mount Tabor." See Origen, p. 329-330 (1885-96). However, official statements by the LDS Church concerning the Holy Ghost do not appear compatible with the idea that the Holy Ghost is the Heavenly Mother. The Church has continuted to maintain that the Holy Ghost is male and that little has been revealed on the subject, therefore anything other than acknolewgdement of a Heavenly Mother is speculative.

Prayer to the Heavenly Mother

Some feminist Mormons have adopted the practice of praying to the Heavenly Mother. However, the LDS Church has rejected this practice, saying that Mormons should not pray to the Heavenly Mother. A feminist professor was fired from Brigham Young University for teaching prayer to the Heavenly Mother in her class.

References

  • Joseph Smith, Jr., King Follett Discourse, April 7, 1844, published in Times and Seasons 5 (August 15, 1844): 612-17, and reprinted in the History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, edited by B. H. Roberts, 2d ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, (1976-1980), 6:302-17; see also "The Christian Godhead--Plurality of Gods", History of the Church, 6: 473-79.
  • Linda P. Wilcox, "The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven", Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, edited by Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), 64-77.
  • Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses 18:292 (Nov. 12, 1876).
  • Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses 18:31-32 (June 27, 1875).
  • Joseph's Specked Bird, Letter to the Editor, Times and Seasons 6: 892 (May 1, 1845).
  • Jill Mulvay Derr, "The Significance of 'O My Father' in the Personal Journey of Eliza R. Snow", BYU Studies 36, no. 1 (1996-97): 84-126.
  • Danny L. Jorgensen, "The Mormon Gender-Inclusive Image of God", Journal of Mormon History, 27, No. 1 (Spring 2000): 95-126.
  • Carol Lynn Pearson, "Mother Wove the Morning: a one-woman play" (October 1992) (ISBN 1562363077) (depicting, according to the video's description, Eliza R. Snow as one of "sixteen women [who] throughout history search for God the Mother and invite her back into the human family").
  • Joseph F. Smith et al., "The Origin of Man", Improvement Era (November 1909): 80.
  • Gordon B. Hinckley, "Daughters of God", Ensign, November 1991: 97-100.
  • Barry R. Bickmore, "Mormonism in the Early Jewish Christian Milieu", http://www.fairlds.org/pubs/conf/1999BicB.html#en112 (1999).
  • Origen, Commentary on John 2:6, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885-1896) 10:329-330.


See also

Other faiths

In the Unification Church, some members have been known to address God as "Heavenly Mother," emphasizing the Divine Attribute of femininity rather than indicating a distinct personage. Unificationists consider God a unified being of masculine and feminine characteristics, but they nearly always refer to Him as "Father"—as in Father, please forgive my sins or "Heavenly Father."

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