The Transformative Power of the Mother’s Embrace
A Reflection on The Divine Feminine, Hugs, and The Lion King
Reflecting on my relationship with my mom during some conversations with others from the Symbolic World around Mother’s Day last year, I made a mental note to collect some thoughts that surfaced on the nature of the role of the Mother to share this year for the occasion.
“Mother” and “matter” come from the same Latin root word, mater. From a modern perspective, this might seem insignificant, but from an ancient symbolic perspective the connection is more apparent. Matter is the potential for meaning—formless “stuff” waiting to be informed by the “seed” of a pattern to become something real. The Feminine, “mother/matter,” and the Masculine, “father/pattern,” pater, come together to create existence. This union is one of the central commonalities in all cosmogonic myths. In modern readings of these stories, more emphasis is often placed on Pattern’s role in the relationship, leaving the role of Matter feeling insignificant and secondary. A sneaky and sexist bias can surface and even feel validated when words like “submissive,” “intuitive,” “helper” are associated with the divine Feminine. So much emphasis is placed on Pattern, the divine Masculine, that aspiring to embody the divine Feminine could feel like shooting for silver. When properly understood, Matter is shown to be equally important in the process of creation. So what is the role of the divine Feminine?
A part of it: hugs.
The Lion King
Early on in The Lion King, Simba, knowing that it’s his destiny to be “The Lion King,” constructs a very simplified and fragile representation of the idea of “lion kingship” in a childish drama/dance where he wildly jumps around, scaring other animals, and lords his power over them. There’s a foreshadowing in this “I just can’t wait to be King” song sequence where Simba uses his power to build a sort of “Tower of Babel” out of the animals that reaches high into heaven, but lasts only a short time before crumbling into total chaos.
Simba continues his playful exploration of the idea of being king in gradually more high-stakes scenarios. Soon it’s no longer tantamount to play, but a reckless abuse of his princely power. Simba constantly pushes the limitations set out for him by his father. His irresponsible behaviour ultimately leads him to play a part in his father’s death, when Mufasa is forced to save him from a stampede of wildebeest.
Simba is immediately struck by his actions and terrified by the weight of what he’s done. His conception of what it means to be king is no longer viable to him in light of the disaster in front of him. His childish, simplistic idea of kingship as an excessive lifestyle of revelry and lording power over others is shattered. It becomes apparent that the great power he’s been destined to inherit is anchored to an even greater responsibility to wield that power with wisdom and intentionality.
This dilemma is something every human can relate to on many levels. We all begin life with simple conceptions about what it means to be human and how we should live. As children, our models for behaviour in the world are extremely simple, based on facile generalisations and imitations of figures we look up to, like parents or older playmates. When our oversimple understanding of how to conduct ourselves doesn’t hold up to the judgement of our environment, we are stuck. We quickly learn that forcefully taking someone’s toy not only leads to the acquisition of that toy, but also a blow to the head from an angry playmate. We’re confronted by the realisation that we don’t know how to live, trapped by our poorly-planned actions in a world of suffering beyond our expectation. What do we do then?
At this point in the movie, Simba is so distraught and so scared of returning home to face his failure that he runs away into the desert. He soon finds a resting place in the warmth and comfort of the bosom of Mother Nature, a jungle paradise detached from the world of responsibility. He lets go of his identity as “king”—this means no more roaring and prowling around—and even forgets his identity as a lion, beginning to eat bugs, swing from trees like a monkey, and joining a family comprised of a meerkat and a warthog—unlikely companions, especially for a lion. It’s a total breakdown of identity and a rejection of meaning—a retreat to the world of meaningless fun and relaxation. Hakuna Matata. No worries. Nothing matters. Ironically, it’s only from this place that he’s eventually able to begin to see what it really means to be king. It’s only in the bosom of nature, the embrace of the divine Feminine, that transformation can take place.
The most explicit characterisation of the feminine role in Simba’s transformation appears when he encounters the sensuous draw of the Feminine in Nala. In some ways, Nala represents the positive side of embracing responsibility, embodying the beauty and delicacy of a harmonious kingdom. She’s a remnant of the wonder and innocence that existed when a good king ruled over the Pride lands. Simba’s intoxication with Nala’s beauty and potential for partnership confounds him. His plan for life is once again upended by the mysterious feminine forces of transformation. Nala calls him into his role of authority again, reminding him that the world of responsibility has its rewards even though it’s also a place where decisions have weight and can lead to tragedy. It’s difficult to pin her in an argument, much less in a wrestling match. Even though he may be bigger and stronger, there’s a gentle magic glimmering about her that affects him in subtle ways he can’t resist by sheer force of will. In the strange serenity and comfort of a feminine embrace, Simba’s transformation reaches its crux. Nala’s unassuming playfulness lowers Simba’s defences, so much so that he is caught completely off guard when she presents him with a long-forgotten question: Could he be King?2
Should he be king? Should he go back and take care of the pride in its time of need? Go back and stand up to Scar? Face his failure?
Simba is torn, but Nala’s allure is irresistable. He decides to step into his role once again as The Lion King.3
The story of The Lion King ends shortly after this in a dramatic showdown with Scar, who is a symbolic manifestation of the danger, tragedy, and judgement from past failures associated with taking on responsibility.4
After this transformation has taken place, Simba is willing to confront the accusations of his deceptive uncle and bear the burden of kingship again, despite his failure in the past. Though the credits roll here, it’s important to realise that the pattern of growth and maturity Simba experiences over the course of the movie will likely be a cyclical one as he continues to grow into his role as king. The explicit role of the Feminine in this process is impossible to describe fully, as subtlety is one of its most important characteristics, and where much of its power is derived. 5 Though it has a mysterious way of rarely manifesting in the same way twice, we can rest assured that it will continue to be vital in the unfolding of the pattern of transformation and growth in Simba’s Lion Kingship.
The Mother’s Embrace
When I was very young, my relationship with my mom was very important to me (as it is for most people, though I think especially for young boys). The thing I remember most about my mom’s care for me as a child was her gentleness and her warm hugs. I needed those hugs, especially after I’d gotten myself in trouble.
I was, and still am to some extent, hardheaded and driven. When I had a goal I was set on accomplishing or a role I felt destined to step into, I single-mindedly aimed at and pursued it—or my understanding of it—often to my own detriment. Even more often, it was to the detriment of the breaking dishes, rusting tools left in the rain, or crying siblings I left in my wake as I clattered, dashed, and tripped towards my destiny. I was nicknamed “the bulldozer” by the nursery staff at my church because of the way I’d charge from one side of the room to the other, toppling block towers and scattering toys on my way to my next destination due to an utter lack of awareness of my surroundings beyond the goal I was focused on. Sooner or later, my lack of care would catch up with me and result in a crumbling of my world and a retreat to my mom’s arms as soon as she could spare them.
Though the memories are faint, I still remember those hugs. The stark pain of realising my inadequacies melted away into a pool of softness and warmth when my mom held me. There’s something kind and gentle about the way a mother’s hug reshapes rebuke into a safe place for rebirth. The sensation of being held and calmly shushed are claimed to remind the infant of their mother’s womb:
“The sounds of white noise, the humming of a fan, or a simple recording of a heartbeat all remind newborns of being in the womb. This can also be done by making a gentle “shhh” sound in the baby’s ear repeatedly.”6
It’s as if the mother takes the child back into her egg, back into her womb. The responsibility to Be is dissolved and one is left with the pure sensation of potential, floating in a warm amniotic pool of protection and security. The armour of my mother’s embrace acted like a protective barrier, cutting off the dangers and demands of the world. My speeding heart rate would slow. My panic would subside. My tears of frustration became sobs of relief, and the tension in my body relaxed as I no longer had to exert any energy to hold myself up or fight for my way in the world. Warmth, dissolution, deep exhalation, peaceful descent into a sort of “death.” Then, once the tension and suffering incurred by the negative aspects of reality had subsided, “new life.”
That’s the power of a mother’s hug. The simple, everyday act of a mother embracing her child transcends the mere physicality of the action in a powerful and spiritual way. It’s a ritual enactment of the cosmic egg—the womb of the Great Mother, where new worlds are born. When a mother holds a child, in her arms or her womb, she creates a protective border around the child and allows its pattern of being or the father’s pattern of being8 to dissolve and be remade into a new version of itself—the union of the divine Masculine and the divine Feminine. There are countless creation myths that use the imagery of a cosmic egg that needs to be split to allow for the emergence of the world. Examples of creation myths that reference this “cosmic egg” include Vedic mythology, Greek Orphic mythology, Egyptian mythology, Taoist Chinese mythology, and many, many others.9The mythologies of the world seem to in unison assert that the precondition for proper creation in the world is something akin to the protective and life-giving state of an egg. Eventually, the hug has to end—the egg has to crack so something new can emerge, but this renewal and transformation could not have taken place without the matternal embrace.
Even now as an adult, I deeply appreciate the embrace of my wife, or a friend, or even still my mom. In that place I’m able to let someone else carry the burden of my existence and I’m free to take a moment to clear the slate, tear out the page, and start on a new plan for life. Hugs are extremely powerful things. Every hug is a place where new life can be formed and prepared for the world. Every hug is a symbolic enactment of the divine Feminine. The even more archetypal type of this role revealed in the hug of a mother is significant in the shaping of the spirit and psyche of all of us. While the symbolic conception of “meaning” and “purpose” is associated with the masculinity, none of that meaning or purpose would ever begin to materialise11 or find any substance without the equally important, though generally more elusive, role of the Mother. As we come to a holy day set aside for the celebration of mothers and their role in this world, I hope this meditation on some of the symbolism of femininity and the maternal role helps you to appreciate and engage with the holiday in a meaningful way. Thinking about some of these connections has certainly caused me to reflect on my relationship with my mom in a deeply moving way.
I think I need to go give her a hug.
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- Disney. “The Lion King | I Just Can’t Wait to be King | Disney Sing-Along,” at 2:11. Youtube, July, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8UFnc85-xM
- The role of the divine Feminine is often presented in the form of a question in Matthieu Pageau’s “The Language of Creation.”
Pageau, Matthieu. The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbolism in Genesis, at 36, 89, 113. CreateSpace, May, 2018. https://www.amazon.ca/Language-Creation-Symbolism-Genesis-Commentary/dp/1981549331/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
- Jordan Peterson covers this interaction in detail in a 2017 lecture, “Carl Jung and the Lion King Part 2.” Peterson, Jordan. “2017 Personality 08: Carl Jung and the Lion King Part 2,” at 1:10:09. Youtube, February, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6pbJTqv2hw&t=4208s
- Jordan Peterson expands on this idea in a conversation on “The Joe Rogan Experience,” relating the deceptive uncle to the judgmental voices of society that seem to accuse everyone of being sexist, abusive, racist, or stupid. These accusations often have some merit, which is what makes them so difficult to deal with. What the story of The Lion King shows us is that the proper heroic thing to do is to confront these accusations head-on, taking on responsibility regardless of the dangers and potential for failure. It also shows us that one of the most important tools that allow us to do this is rooted in the Feminine. It’s through levity, fun, and even sex that we gain access to a state of potentiality where we are able to not take ourselves seriously long enough to rethink our way of Being in the world and step into responsibility again.
Rogan, Joe. “#1769 – Jordan Peterson.” Spotify. January, 2022.
- Pageau, Jonathan. “Where is the Divine Feminine? | Rafe Kelley & Jonathan Pageau,” at 19:24. Youtube. November, 2021.
- Stoica, Ana. “Calming A Fussy Newborn.” Health Hive. March, 2021.
- MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health. “Young mother, holding her newborn baby boy.” June, 2020. https://womensmentalhealth.org/posts/pllr/young-mother-holding-her-newborn-baby-boy/
- With the linguistic association of “father” and “pattern” discussed at the beginning of this essay, this distinction should sound almost redundant at this point
- Wikipedia. “World Egg.” Wikipedia. April, 2022.
- Notice the connection to the Latin root word mater again here.