As discussed in the previous entry on this topic, the walk toward the U.S. school system becoming the alma mater of children in the U.S. has been a slow and consistent one and one that has picked up steam in the past 150 years. As asked in the previous post, why would such a name as ‘nurturing mother’ be chosen to represent our centers of learning. To answer this question we must look closely at the origin of the word.
Here Pope is using the term in a very unfriendly way. Speaking of the the fact that the elders of Isis, many of whom were teachers at the time, were often drunk and their pupils took great delight or sport in watching them stagger about. Pope was placing a warning that these activities by those who put hope and trust in philosophy and metaphysics were sure to dissolve the schools at that time as they would end up floating in a puddle of port, or strong liquor. What is troubling though is Pope’s recognition of the teachers as elders of Isis.
Isis is an idolatrous goddess whose worship dates back as far as the earliest Egyptians. Isis was thought to be the daughter of the god of the Earth and the goddess of the heavens. If feminists had an idol, it would be Isis as she was the very embodiment of the perfect woman. What set Isis apart from other gods throughout history though was the fact that Isis spent time with the people of Earth. However, she did not just spend time with them, but she spent time teaching them certain things such as how to cook, clean, sew (all things that a Biblical mother teaches her daughters herself), and of course to train and/or tame men. Isis was not only the first feminist, she may have been the first home economics teacher as well. As Isis is considered a goddess of replenishing the Earth, she is of course on of the natural fits to be worshiped in today’s modern Wicca. While the history and story of Isis is a very intriguing one, to go deeper into that topic would not fit our context here. What does fit our context is the passing down and cultural changes to the idol of Isis and how she is important to the term ‘alma mater.’
The term ‘alma mater’ as previously discussed is a Latin term dating back to the sixteenth century in reference to it application to schools. Quite literally the definition of the word is ‘mother who fosters/nourishes.’ Simply put alma mater = nourishing mother. What history tells us is that the term was most widely conceived and used by the Romans. They did not use the term to identify schools though, but rather to identify several of the goddesses they worshiped. Two of the most widely recognized goddesses or alma maters were the goddess Ceres and the goddess Cybele. In early Christian writings, the cults of Cybele are well documented and opposed by the early church. For order’s sake though, the remainder of this post will focus on Ceres.
As earlier referenced, Isis was an idol that has been passed down from generation to generation, including our modern generation. Dating back to the time of Christ though, it is important to recognize that the Romans, those who nailed Christ to the cross at the pleading of the Jews, also worshiped and held high Isis. However, Isis was not always referred to as Isis in those times, she was often recognized by the name Ceres. This is the same Ceres from which we get the name alma mater. So who was this Ceres and why would the Romans worship her?
Ceres was known to the Romans as the goddess of grain and bounty. We today, when using the word ‘cereal’ are using a word derived from the name of Ceres. The root of the name Ceres though means to grow or give increase, hence the ‘nurture’ we find in alma mater or ‘nurturing mother.’ Strangely, Ceres was most widely regarded among the lower or middle class, also known as the plebs, in Rome and those who worshiped her often verbalized or feigned anger toward the rulers or Rome who, coincidentally, worshiped the idol of the other root of our alma mater, Cybele. Consistent with our understanding of the goddess Isis earlier, Ceres became known among the lower and middle classes as the epitome of the wonderful woman. Please keep in mind that Ceres stands in contrast in many ways of the wonderful woman provided in Proverbs 31. The most glaring difference being that in order for Ceres to provide harvest for her followers, they first must offer her praise. The Proverbs 31 virtuous woman is praised because of her gifts given already (much like we praise God today due to what He has already done for the Christian, not for what we expect to get from Him).
There is much that can be said about the cults and dangers of Ceres, but in the context of our discussion, let’s look at a possible link between Ceres and our alma mater today. Strangely, one of the most eloquent introductions of Ceres and the idea of multiple gods and goddesses into American schools came from an author who did not necessarily agree with the transcendental movement going on during his time. Nathaniel Hawthorne, an author studied in almost all of America’s literature class rooms, held a much bleaker view of humanity than did the transcendentalists, but they agreed in the mystical aspects of the world and that God is experienced, not necessarily learned through proper teaching. Hawthorne was a proponent of the fact that man could learn much about their spiritual life through their dreams. This mystical similarity would have been cause for agreement among the transcendentals and Hawthorne. So, when Hawthorne began penning his Tanglewood Tales a series of books that most American children today have read, they were quickly considered excellent teaching tools in the schools for young children. I am sure that Peabody, who founded the first U.S. kindergarten had an inside track to Hawthorne’s work as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne was married to none other than her sister, Sophia Peabody. Strange coincidence indeed.
Tanglewood Tales was Hawthorne’s attempt to reproduce many of the mythological tales that formed Roman culture and belief and to make them relevant and readable for school-age children of his time. One of the titles which Hawthorne penned was none other than The Pomegranate Seed, which tells the tale of none other than the goddess Ceres. As a child who read several of the Tanglewood Tales, I find it more than ironic that one of the namesakes of our alma maters is famous in mythology for having lost her own daughter while she was off doing what? She was off at work. So much for that idea of her being the ideal mother and woman.
It is important to note that in no way am I blaming the problems in today’s school systems on Peabody and certainly not on Hawthorne. I am simply seeking understanding and explanation of where this idea that he school is the nurturing mother came from and was so thoughtlessly placed into the minds of Americans without so much as a flinch. Again, words are important and to prove such, simply look at modern day evidence of how the idol of Ceres is alive and well today in the United States and our school systems.
If you have child in public schools, you no doubt understand that the schools are being used to indoctrinate children with “green” environmentalist thinking. On it’s face, there is nothing wrong with this. I believe also that we should take care of the Earth and at no time has my thoughts on this matter been greater than now having just returned from the Gulf of Mexico and witnessing the devastation that careless treatment of the Earth causes. However, children are being pushed further to believe that we and the Earth are one, a transcendental idea and one that leads to worship of Ceres.
That statement is not an assumption but a fact. For proof, look at a little coalition that formed 20 years ago off the heels of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economics on it’s face sounds like a good thing. You would think that with a name like that, their goal would be to guarantee that companies are doing everything they can to cut down pollution and waste by corporations. However, that is not the case. As evidenced on the front page of their website, one of the primary goals of the coalition is to sustain a lasting global economy by the year 2020. Anytime I hear the words global and economy used together I raise an eyebrow. What does going green have to do with a global economy after all? What does this have to do with our topic at hand? Can you guess what the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economics calls itself? Ceres is the name they have chosen. They teach that if you follow their standards and rules, they can assure prosperity through economic gain. Sounds like the idolatry and worship of Isis/Ceres is alive today and she is in our schools.
Again, I do not purport to be correct regarding the motives and ambitions of people, past or present. I do feel that words matter though and that when we begin dusting old words off and looking at their meaning and placement in our heads, we don’t always find the prettiest of pictures. We will continue this discussion in future posts when we explore the second half of the Roman goddesses who made up the term alma mater, Cybele.