Consider the following four birth stories:
- A high priestess became pregnant in a manner that was forbidden in her society. She gave birth to a baby boy. Fearing for her child’s life, she fashioned a basket of rushes and cast him into a river. He was retrieved by a man named Akki whose name means “the drawer of water.” Akki raised the boy.
- A son was born to a young princess who had been forced to keep her pregnancy a secret because it was forbidden. When her son was born, she placed him in a basket and floated him down the river. He was found and raised by foster parents. He grew up to become a noted warrior, speaker and eventually a king.
- A young boy accidentally ingested some drops of star-studded wisdom from the cauldron of a goddess and, in this manner, was suddenly awakened to divine knowledge. The goddess grew furious that her divine wisdom was stolen. Desperate to escape her life-threatening wrath, a wild chase ensued. The boy turned himself into a rabbit, but the goddess turned herself into a dog to chase him down. The boy turned himself into a fish to swim away but the goddess became an otter to continue the chase. The boy then turned himself into a bird, but the goddess became a hawk. Finally, the boy turned himself into a seed and hid in a large pile of grain. The goddess turned herself into a hen and ate up all the grain including the boy-as-seed. In this manner she found herself pregnant. She planned to kill the baby when he was born, but when she saw him, he was so beautiful that she fell in love and she could not bring herself to do so. The goddess sewed the baby into a leather sack and threw him into the river. He was retrieved by a man named Elphin who renamed and raised him.
- A woman of the priestly caste of her tribe gave birth to a baby boy. At the time, all boys born to her tribe were under a decree of death. To save her son’s life, she created a basket of reeds and floated him down the river. He was found by a royal princess who retrieved him from the water, gave him a new name and raised him to adulthood.
The first story is that of an Akkadian hero king named Sargon I or Sargon the Great who lived circa 23rd – 24th centuries BCE. He is best known for conquering much of Mesopotamia, the same general area of Biblical events, albeit much earlier. He is credited with introducing the concept of an empire and was lauded as the founder of a dynasty of kings throughout the region.
The second story is Karna’s birth tale from the Hindu Mahabharata. His father was the Hindu sun deity, Surya. His mother was a princess who later became a queen. His foster parents named him Vasusena. It is said that the boy had the feet of his mother and glowed with the illumination of his father.
The third story is the birth legend of Taliesin, the bard/poet/shaman of Britain. Taliesin was said to have lived in the 6th century CE.
The fourth story is the biblical tale of Moses.
Even though the four birth stories span cultures thousands of miles apart and time periods of over thousands of years, there are a myriad of common mythic themes here.
The mother in each case was a princess, priestess or a goddess, each with a connection to the divine. Sargon was the son of the high priestess. Jochebed, Moses’s mother was a Levite, a member of the priestly caste, potentially a priestess in her own right. Taliesin’s second birth mother was Cerridwen, known as the goddess of Britain. In Karna’s case, his mother was a princess who coupled with a deity.
All four were floated down a river in a basket or a sack to escape from life-threatening danger. All were retrieved and raised by their rescuers. At least three of them were given new names upon their retrieval. The Celtic boy was originally named Gwion and became Taliesin. The pharaoh’s daughter gave her adoptee the name Moses. The name in ancient Egyptian means “son.”
In short, each of our heroes had two birth experiences: The first through the watery amniotic fluid of their physical mothers and the second in their traversing watery passages in reed or leather baskets. Metaphorically through the birth passage of the Great Goddess.
Moses is sometimes treated as a historical character. He might be, but there is no extra-Biblical source that mentions him. Perhaps he, like so many ancient “heroes,” is a mythic character brought to human size and human experience for the purpose of storytelling.
And perhaps the most pertinent, especially in relation to this Feminism and Religion site, is the echoing of the theme of the son or it’s more likely roots – “child.” The sacred “child” became “son” because these stories were written in patriarchal times. We find more female heroes in fairy tales which can be traced to older traditions.
The overarching theme becomes a special child who was born and derived power from the Great Mother Goddess.
There is a lot written about the mythic archetype of the “son of the sun.” I am proposing that the original template of hero/prophets/spiritual leaders would be the archetype of “the child of the Great Goddess.” In other words, this is a template that embodies each and every one of us. Just as Moses was a child of the Great Goddess, so, too, are we.
And don’t we all have two birth lineages as well? It could be said that our physical bodies are birthed from our physical mothers and represent our earthly lineage. It could also be said that our soul or spirit is birthed directly from the Great Goddess and represent our heavenly or royal lineage. We all have access to walk the royal path in our own lives.
To see read comments regarding this article go to: feminismandreligionblogpost