March 15th is the fourth Sunday of Lent and traditionally is the day when children give presents, flowers, and homemade cards to their mothers. It has no connection with the hallmarkian americanised jamboree of that name. In common with most of my readers I do not need a special day to remember mine, because later in the month on March 25th is her birthday. It only takes a word overheard or someone’s gesture, as I go about my daily duties, to remind me of both my departed parents.
Most Sundays in the year churchgoers in England worshipped at their nearest parish or “daughter church”. Centuries ago it was considered important for people to return to their home or “mother” church once a year. So in the middle of Lent, everyone would visit their “mother” church, or the main church or Cathedral of the area. It was the return to the “Mother” church which led to the tradition of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, or as apprentices, being given the day off to visit their mother and family.
It was quite common in those days for children to leave home for work once they were ten years old. As they walked along the country lanes, children would pick wild flowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift.
With such a richness of strong and vital images of motherhood, we have much to celebrate on Mother’s Day. However it isn’t especially our birth mothers we are celebrating but more spiritually we thank Mother Nature, who sustains us in life and to whom we all eventually return.
Thanksgiving to Mother has ties to ancient pagan ritual. Prehistoric artifacts bare proof of this. The earliest recorded festival in history honoured the Egyptian goddess Nut. She was goddess of the sky and wife of Re, the god of the sun and creator of all, and was known for her incredible beauty and kindness. Her generous and loving nature was apparently extensive, leading her into affairs with Geb, the god of the earth, and Thoth, the god of divine words. Re found out and, understandably, was furious with her, issuing a curse that his pregnant wife would not give birth to the child within her in any month of any year! Filled with sorrow that she would never be a mother, Nut turned to Thoth for comfort. Like most males, he couldn’t stand to see a woman cry and promised to find a solution. Using his divine powers of persuasion, Thoth persuaded the Moon into gambling with him. If he won he would get just a little bit of the Moon’s light. The games went on for months, and at the end Thoth had won enough light to create five complete days. Nut didn’t waste a precious moment of those five days. She gave birth to a different child on each day. From that day forward she was called “Mother of the Gods”. Her firstborn, Osiris, was the son of Re and went on to become the god of all the earth. The Great Goddess Isis, daughter of Thoth, was born on the third day. Later as husband and wife they ruled together, creating the first great nation of Western civilization during the “Golden Age of Egypt”
Another Mother figure, Eostre a Saxon deity, marked not only the passage of time but also symbolised new life and fertility. We remember her at the timing of the vernal equinox, also known as Ostara. Legend has it that the goddess was saved by a bird whose wings had become frozen by the cold of winter. This process turned the bird into a hare that could also lay eggs!
As usual the church borrowed these pagan symbols for Easter, so the egg and bunny became additional symbols for fertility and the resurrection of life.
On a less serious note I leave these memories which most children have of their Mother.
1. My mother taught me TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE.
‘If you’re going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished
2. My mother taught me RELIGION.
‘You better pray that this will come out of the carpet.’
3. My mother taught me about TIME TRAVEL
‘If you don’t straighten up, I’m going to knock you into the middle of
4. My mother taught me LOGIC.
’Because I said so, that’s why.’
5. My mother taught me MORE LOGIC.
‘If you fall out of that swing and break your neck, you’re not going
to the store with me.’
6. My mother taught me FORESIGHT.
‘Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident.’
7. My mother taught me IRONY.
‘Keep crying and I’ll give you something to cry about.’
8. My mother taught me about the science of OSMOSIS.
‘Shut your mouth and eat your dinner.’
9. My mother taught me about CONTORTIONISM.
‘Will you look at that dirt on the back of your neck?’
10. My mother taught me about STAMINA
‘You’ll sit there until all those vegetables are gone.’
11. My mother taught me about WEATHER…
‘This room of yours looks as if a tornado went through it.’
12. My mother taught me about HYPOCRISY
‘If I told you once, I’ve told you a million times. Don’t exaggerate!’
13. My mother taught me the CIRCLE OF LIFE.
’I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.’
14. My mother taught me about BEHAVIOUR MODIFICATION.
‘Stop acting like your father!’
15. My mother taught me about ENVY.
‘There are millions of less fortunate children in this world who don’t
have wonderful parents like you do….’
16. My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION .
‘Just wait until we get home.
17. My mother taught me about RECEIVING.
’You are going to get it when you get home!’
18. My mother taught me MEDICAL SCIENCE.
’If you don’t stop crossing your eyes, they are going to get stuck
19. My mother taught me E.S.P.
‘put your sweater on; don’t you think I know when you are cold?’
20. My mother taught me HUMOUR.
‘When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me….’
21. My mother taught me HOW TO BECOME AN ADULT .
‘If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’ll never grow up.’
22. My mother taught me GENETICS.
‘You’re just like your father.’
23. My mother taught me about my ROOTS.
‘Shut that door behind you. Do you think you were born in a barn?’
24. My mother taught me WISDOM.
‘When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.’
25. And my favourite: My mother taught me about JUSTICE
‘One day you’ll have children, and I hope they turn out just like you’
In the church calendar this coming sunday commemorates the banquet given by Joseph to his brethren and forms the first lesson of the day. Te story of the feeding of the five thousand, forms the gospel for the day. For this reason Simnel Cakes, rich fruit cakes often covered with marzipan, were eaten on Mothering Sunday, a tradition that persists today.
I’ll to thee a Simnell bring
‘Gainst thou go’st a mothering,
So that, when she blesseth thee,
Half that blessing thou’lt give to me.
[Robert Herrick 1648]
For those who celebrate the more secular Mother’s Day which falls on the second Sunday in May, and so have time to prepare this:
Receipe for Simnel Cake:
Softened Butter – 225g (8 oz);
Castor sugar – 225g (8 oz);
Self Raising flour – 225g (8 oz);
Sultanas. – 225g (8 oz);
Currants. – 110g (4 oz);
Glacé Cherries – 110g (4 oz), quartered;
Chopped candied peel – 50g (2 oz);
Zest of 2 lemons;
Mixed spice – 2 tsp.
Filling and topping:
Almond paste – 450g (1 lb);
Apricot jam – 2 tbsp;
1 beaten egg (for glaze).
1. Pre-heat oven to 150 °C / 300 °F
2. Butter and line the base and sides of a 20 cm (8 inch) deep round cake tin with buttered greaseproof paper. Place all the cake ingredients bowl and beat well. Place half the mixture in the prepared tin.
3. Take one-third of the almond paste and roll it out into a circle the size of the tin. Place it on top of the cake mixture. Spoon the remaining cake mixture over and smooth the surface.
4. Bake for about 2½ hours until well risen and firm. (If the top of the cake is browning too quickly in the oven, cover it with aluminium foil.) Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
5. When the cake has cooled, brush the top with a little warmed apricot jam and roll out half the remaining almond paste to fit the top. Press firmly on the top and crimp the edges to decorate.
6. Mark a criss-cross pattern on the almond paste with a sharp knife. Roll the remaining almond paste into 11 balls.
7. Brush the almond paste with beaten egg and arrange the balls around the outside. Brush the tops of the balls with egg as well. Place the cake under a hot grill to turn the almond paste golden.
8. Decorate with crystallised flowers if liked.
Finally as a genealogist, I dedicate this quotation to all Mothers.
“Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain they are their own.” ~Aristotle