A few weeks ago I spent some time discussing archetypal characters in Young Adult Urban Fantasy, especially how they relate to the sub-genre of Angel Literature, and the archetypes of Eve and Lilith. I’m going to come back to that topic today to talk about the Mother archetype and the relevance of the Great Mother. If you want to read my previous blogs on this topic you can see them here (Fallen Angel Lit), here (Fallen Angel Lit – Continued), here (Feminists and Rebel Angels) and here (Genre Conventions in Angel Lit).
When you think of archetypes it’s unusual to envision the archetype of the Great Mother as one associated with young adult women. Archetypes like the Maiden (referred to by Jung as the Kore) would at first seem more appropriate. However, I find it interesting that in most of these books there is either a single mother or a lack of a mother figure in the protagonists life, when the mother archetype is such a strong presence in the text. The protagonists’ lack of a Mother figure in their life causes the protagonist to become the Mother figure. As I’ve explained, at length, the archetypes of Eve and Lilith I won’t go over that again, but what I didn’t write before is that these two women are primordial mother figures. In the same way that the Ancient Greeks believe that Pandora was essentially the matriarch of humanity so too do Judeo-Christian religions believe in Eve as the matriarch of our species. While Eve is seen primarily as our mother Lilith is often referred to as the mother of Demons, creatrix of an antagonistic race, the Dark Mother. The YAUF characters based off these archetypes are also incorporated into the secondary part of the Mother archetype, commonly known as the Great Mother, which Jung explains covers a more spiritual kind of mother. While Jung identifies this archetype as the goddess(es), it can also be relevant to female icons such as Queens and literary Witches. These are female role models who have power over the lives of others even if they are not their biological “mother”.
In a world of Angels and Demons, this Great Mother archetype is usually expressed as a representation of the primordial mother. Depending on which mythology and which etiology used as creative inspiration this primordial mother can be either Eve or Lilith. These characters therefore, as representations of the Eve and Lilith archetypes, are also representations of the Great Mother. They are usually Angels or Nephilim, meaning they have powers and therefore are now cast into the same archetypal “other” category as witches, fairies, and sirens. In young adult literature it is no longer enough for the heroine’s boyfriend to be an otherworldly creature, now the heroine herself must not be of this mundane world. Regardless of how she is raised it will eventually be discovered that she has a secret, maybe even from herself, and that is that she is a creature of another world. Having powers over humankind, or powers that humankind doesn’t possess elevates the protagonist from someone on our level to someone higher, more powerful than us. The Great Mother is not only a nurturing figure but also a transformative one. The transformation can be either positive or negative but the result is always the same: change occurs. Often in these stories it is the destructive or “terrible” mother archetype that applies to the character as it seems the Lilith archetype is more common as inspiration.
So why are these representations important to Young Adult readers and why are they so popular? In They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill: The Psycological Meaning in Supernatural Monsters in Young Adult Fiction J. R. Bodart writes that like the characters in urban fantasy, teenagers are liminal. They are on the verge between childhood and adulthood and are trying to navigate their way via their life choices. I believe the Eve and the Lilith figures are important to the development of Young Adult women’s psyche. Drawing from my own experiences as a Young Adult woman, teenagers are extremely curious (like Eve), and this leads to experimentation with their Identity, Fashion, Drugs and Sex. Young adults can also be extremely rebellious (like Lilith). The world is providing curious things to investigate and the Young Adult no longer wants to answer to the disciplinary authority figure. This can be seen in the antagonistic role authority figures, especially male authority figures, have in these stories. YA literature assures teens that the world is capable of understanding.
When it comes to Eve and Lilith one can see how these women are not only the instigators of the species but also the first women to go through puberty. Young readers can take comfort in knowing that they are not alone. Centuries of women have been through the same struggles they are facing. All the way back to the “Mother” and especially the “Great Mother”. Eve’s passivity, just letting the authority of the time drag her through life, is disempowering in one way and yet it is traditionally the way of the “Good Mother”, who reacts to the forces and obstacles in her life instead of confronting them. While it may comfort a disenfranchised reader on a sympathetic level it does not serve as well as an educational presence as the Lilith figure does. Lilith is a very pro-feminist figure and ideally young female readers would model their behaviour towards that of the Lilith. The Lilith nature requires women to question everything, to refuse to bow to compromising pressures and to refuse to acknowledge a patriarchal authority that only serves its own interests. This is exactly the figure of the “Terrible Mother”. This is the message young women should be taking from the Lilith figure. Lilith refuses to be anything but man’s equal and isn’t hesitant to demand equality between the sexes. In Western society where gender stereotypes and inequality are still rife this message is as important today as it was when suffragettes burned their bras. It is in its own way a form of the archetype of Rebirth. The time has come for women to empower themselves and these YAUF Angel stories can have the potential, through their increasing popularity, to effect great change.
Viewing the archetype in this manner it is easy to see the power inherent in Young Adult Angel Literature. Powerful feminine Angel characters are popular in Christian countries suggesting that Pagan Goddesses are simply too “other” for the comfort of the reading audience. It would not be a stretch to conclude that the Goddess yearning manifests through these Angels in a way which reassures the Christian reader of the divine feminine in a symbol that does not threaten their belief in the higher power of the masculine God. Lilith characters are especially powerful manifestations of this divine feminine aspect as at all times the mythological Lilith is a Woman, an Angel, a Goddess, a Demon and an Elemental Spirit.