Believing in the Love and Affection of Nature: A Conversation with Tom Cowan

Jane BurnsUncategorized

“Grace of the love of the skies be thine,” says one prayer from the west isles of Scotland.  “Love and affection of the moon be yours,” says another.  “You are the pure love of the moon and stars!” declares one Hebridean blessing.

What do prayers such as these reveal to us about the consciousness and the conscientiousness of the ancient Celtic people? 

We could say that they viewed Nature as a source of strength that humans depended upon to make their way in an oftentimes perilous world.  We could say they assumed that the intention of Nature and its workings in the world was ultimately and unquestionably benign and beneficial. We could even say that humanity’s access to the love and affection of Nature was ever present and undeniable, there for the asking. There even without the asking!

The very existence of these prayers and the sentiments they express begs the question: why was the perspective of the indigenous Celtic people so different from ours? What were they seeing that we don’t? And furthermore, how could adopting such a view of Nature, and our relationship with it, alter our own lives?  Would we feel less bewildered and alone, less beleaguered, less afraid?

In a recent conversation with Tom Cowan, renowned scholar, writer and contemplative of Celtic life and perspective, he made the point that: “Living a life that is in harmony with Nature and the natural cycles of the Earth keeps us connected to the Mother of Life, the Divine Source of Life. This, in conjunction with the belief that we are the ‘pure love’ of the moon and stars and all living things, places us in a friendly universe. Would this not help us live more contentedly even if we can never answer the Big Questions of life?”

Indeed, perhaps our restlessness arises out of our disconnection from Nature, our unease and lack of trust in the unstoppable force of Life itself, what Tom calls “the Mother of Life.”  Perhaps, it is more strenuous for us to live comfortably in Her mysteries, to surrender to the vast unknowing of who we are, why we are here, and what it is we are called upon to do, as spiritual wisdom might suggest, because we perceive ourselves as alone.  That rather than support us, Nature and Life seem against us.

“Nature is our Mother,” Tom says, “and we are never really separated from her, although we might feel that we are. That union can be a potent feeling in our lives if we kindle it and keep it strong. It can change the way we treat Nature and influence how we perceive the Divine in the natural world. It makes living a lot more joyful.”

Just the belief that Nature IS our Mother, to treat and entreat her as such, would be a game-changer for us—and this planet.  After all, the archetypal Mother represents unconditional love, affection, care, concern, support, sustenance, protection, encouragement, and constant awareness. She always knows where we are, what we require, and who we are.  She is the Keeper and Protector of our Preciousness.

“The image of the Mother triggers in all of us a subliminal memory of being in the womb, united and one with our mothers,” says Tom. “Even after birth, there is a period of union or oneness with her. For some people, this memory stays strong throughout childhood and into adulthood. It’s been said that this is a memory and a yearning for union with God or the Divine Spirit. I’ve heard that often soldiers dying on a battlefield will call out for their mothers. Perhaps this is not solely a plea for them to come and save them, but a recognition of where [they] are going.”

(A beautiful and even reassuring thought, as we still mourn the senseless slaying of George Floyd, who cried out for his own mother, as he was being brutally murdered on a street in Minneapolis, May 25, 2020.)

I have actually seen evidence of the connection Tom draws here between our (earthly) Mother and the Divine playing out in a number of shamanic healing sessions I’ve conducted, where a soul part lost from a childhood breach with the client’s mother actually results in that person’s lifelong disconnection from a spiritual identity and a trust in the Divine Presence, an air of forsakenness that clings to them.

My whole discussion with Tom Cowan began, when I was struck by a term he uses in Chapter 10 of his lovely book, Yearning for the Wind (New World Library, 2003, p. 43.), a chapter entitled “The Hidden Mothers.”  I had been pondering the root of humanity’s disconnection from Nature and its confounding savagery toward Her, and had gone to Tom’s book for insight. Who are these Hidden Mothers, I then asked him, and why are they in hiding? Have we banished them into obscurity, I wondered, where they can no longer protect and guide us?

“Mothers are the containers and carriers of life,” he replied, “who give birth to new life and nurture it. This birthing or becoming is going on all the time, but we tend not to recognize or acknowledge it. Since we don’t see this, we can say that these Mothering Spirits are ‘hidden’ from us. They are also hidden because they are part of the great mystery of life which we see evidence of, but which we do not often try to understand or honor. Mysteries, after all, must be pursued and found and solved. Some never are.”

It’s these Mothers, then, being the very bringers of Life, who carry the answers to those mysteries, and provide the seamless thread connecting us to the Otherworld and our own Divine nature.  Perhaps we are too caught in our separateness, in the trappings of our temporal world to be willing or inspired to call out to them.    

How can we now coax the Mothers of Life out of hiding?  How can we once again know the love and affection of all they bring forth? How do we get back to where we belong, to the place where our indigenous ancestors stood and prayed with such generosity and assurance?  Such innocence?

I believe it starts with making amends.  Tom gives us a beautiful prayer of acknowledgement and self-reckoning in Yearning for the Wind (p. 41-42), one that brings to mind the indigenous Hawaiian forgiveness practice of Ho’oponopono

Mothers of Life,

            you bless the earth that gives us food,

            shelter, clothing, and tools for our

            work and play, and that provides

            the paths that lead us

            through life,

                        Forgive [us].

Mothers of Life,

            you bring water from the sky and from

            deep in the Earth to cleanse and

            refresh us and keep us moist

            and living,

                        Forgive [us].

Mothers of Life,

            you give us days when the air is crisp and

            sweet-scented, and days when it is

            heavy with dew and the dampness

            of decay,

                        Forgive [us].

Mothers of Life,

            you nurture us in the long bright days of

            summer and in the rich darkness

            of night and winter, you teach

            us the mysteries of the moon

            and stars,

                        Forgive [us].

This is a wonderful place to begin.  The words can be changed, of course, as the many gifts we have so long ignored trickle back into our consciousness.  Soon, that awareness will become a strong and vibrant current of thought and love and affection.

In order to reciprocate Nature’s deep and mysterious beauty, supplement your forgiveness prayer with these rituals Tom and I suggest:

1. Leave Nature collages or altars, comprised of colorful and textured treasures, (like stones, bark, lichen, sea shells, feathers, flowers, leaves, mosses, robins’ eggshells, etc.) in the wild.

2. Sing songs or recite poems, while walking or praying, that praise the beauty of Nature.

3. Build cairns of stacked stones in a shallow stream or mosaics of shells on the shore.

4. Create an interactive tree or garden where visitors leave gifts and select a treasure of their own to take away.

5. Sit still in Nature and allow it to speak to you with birdsong, breezes, the chatter of a squirrel, the rush of a nearby stream, the creak of a tall tree swaying.  Then, answer back in a loving and affectionate way, as with this song written by Tom, that is based on various Scottish Highland prayers:

You are the tree (bird, wind, squirrel, stream, etc.) of my love,

You are the tree of my joy.

You are the song of my desire,

When you sing my heart fills with fire!

And most of all, never, ever forget: you are the pure love of the moon and stars!