Dear Sister of the Heart,
Mother Goose is alive and well and she just turned three hundred!
Those of you who know my work are well aware of my eternal interest in, and fascination for, anything that has to do with the mother archetype. I am always watching for signs of how this archetypal energy- particularly the positive side of the archetype- is emerging in our culture, and the ways in which this mother archetype is expressing herself and spreading her love. It’s my favorite kind of research.
You might say that Mother Goose is a Goddess of Love. For generations she has seen the soul of a child and she introduces that child to a world of magical characters and encourages that child to come forth and shine through her rhymes.
Last Saturday morning I watched in awe as the singer and creative genius Natalie Merchant brought the archetype of Mother Goose to life. To be clear, Merchant was Mother Goose for a full hour on stage. It was my kind of heaven. Mother Goose was singing and performing with over one hundred Head Start children in New York’s Hudson Valley. The kids were singing their hearts out and celebrating her 300th birthday.
Mother Goose has been around for that long- since Charles Perrault first published a book of poems under her name.
Now not all of the one hundred plus four-year-olds were on stage at the same time- even Mother Goose in all her power and glory would not have been able to manage that! Small groups of pumpkin eaters, the king and queen of hearts and their entourage, Jack Spratt and his wife, Humpty Dumpty and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, Miss Muffett and her spider- to name a few- went on stage when it was their time to recite and sing the next rhyme.
Each group came out resplendent in their colorful hand-made silk and velvet costumes, all designed by Merchant, and sewn by her and a women’s circle over many months. She brought together a community of volunteers to take part in this incredible labor of love. Every week during the school year, Merchant brought in live musicians to the classroom- a guitarist and a fiddler- as the children learned all the lines (and a lot about music and words and rhythm and dance) for this Happy Birthday Mother Goose show.
When Merchant’s teen daughter entered high school and was more consumed with schoolwork and after school activities, she was looking for a creative project to put some of her mama energy into. She has always been an activist- throughout her career she has put on concerts to help raise money and awareness about such issues as the dangers of fracking and to shed light on domestic violence- its causes and cures. Turns out Merchant has always had a passion for bringing music and dance into the classroom and she was well aware that Head Start does not have a budget for the arts.
What an amazing collaboration! Four-year-olds immersed in the joy of music and dance and rhythm and rhymes, three mornings a week for the entire school year! And Merchant, or Miss Natalie as the children loved to call her, was clearly at home in this combined role of mama and music teacher.
A few months ago I had the opportunity to witness Merchant work her magic in the classroom. It was clear to me that she is as much in her element teaching young children as she is in her element when she sings. I watched her attuned attention to the details of their lives. I watched her grab a tissue and console a sad child with a snotty face. I saw her intervene masterfully through disagreements and bring forth shy children with such gentle tact.
And damned if she didn’t learn the first name of every last child within the first month! Now that’s seeing the soul of a child.
What we all saw last Saturday- the lucky people who joined the friends and families of these kids, including the grown man (I think a dad) sitting next to me who wiped a few tears from his cheek- what we all saw was joyous, seamless, and transcendent. Surely it had to have been because of a combination of the human and the divine: the strong human bonds between the students and their beloved teacher Miss Natalie that grew over many months AND the divine love of the mother archetype that Merchant so gracefully channeled during the performance.