“Mother Earth”

Alan C. Miner

There are three Book of Mormon occurrences of the term "mother earth" (2 Nephi 9:7; Mosiah 2:26; Mormon 6;15). In order to explore the possible religious and cultural background behind the use of such language, Kevin and Shauna Christensen note the words of Northrop Frye:

No principle is without many exceptions in mythology, but one very frequent mythical formulation of this attitude to nature is an earth-mother, from whom everything is born and to whom everything returns at death. Such an earth-mother is the most easily understood image of natura naturans, and she acquires its moral ambivalence. As the womb of all forms of life, she has a cherishing and nourishing aspect; as the tomb of all forms of life, she has a menacing and sinister aspect; as the manifestation of an unending cycle of life and death, she has an inscrutable and elusive aspect. Hence, she is often a dive triformis, a goddess of a threefold form of some kind, usually birth, death, and renewal in time; or heaven, earth, and hell in space.

The references to "mother earth" in the Book of Mormon are subtle but neatly spread across the entire history arguing for a long-standing tradition. Also, it is clear that these references, in connection with other archetypal feminine images, contain the essentials of the mythic formulation. The presence of these essential elements of the picture in the text invites our further exploration of the Old land New World contexts.

Some have expressed concern that the three passages cited all refer to mother earth in the context of death. While this is strictly correct, other passages in the Book of Mormon suggest the life-giving aspects of mother earth (for example, see Helaman 11:13, 17). [Kevin and Shauna Christensen, "Nephite Feminism Revisited: Thoughts on Carol Lynn Pearson's View of Women in the Book of Mormon," in FARMS Review of Books, Volume 10, Number 2, 1998, pp. 27-28]

[Mormon 6:16-20] And My Soul Was Rent with Anguish (Mormon's Lamentation):

After the destruction of his people, Mormon mourned their passing. His lament is, of course, characterized by intense grief and sorrow. Sidney Sperry has arranged it in poetic form:

Mormon's Lamentation

O ye fair ones,

how could ye have departed

from the ways of the Lord!

O ye fair ones,

how could ye have rejected

that Jesus, who stood with open arms

to receive you!

Behold, if ye had not done this,

ye would not have fallen.

But behold, ye are fallen,

and I mourn your loss.

O ye fair sons and daughters,

ye fathers and mothers,

ye husbands and wives,

ye fair ones,

how is it

that ye could have fallen!

But behold, ye are gone,

and my sorrows

cannot bring your return.

[Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium, p. 452]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary