Mother killing Children: Folktales and Mythology

A popular theme in the world of mythology and folktale is the mother killing her children. Killing any life form is a disturbing and gruesome act. But bringing life to its end by the creator herself is particularly frightening. The expectation bar for women has been set hugely high.

Giving birth to another life form is divine, but divinity is not essential to be human. The woman is also a human being who carries an oversized bag of responsibilities, miseries, sadness and sorrows.

Sometimes motherhood is forced upon women, and other times, women cannot carry the load of caring for children. And let’s not forget that not every woman wants to be a mother. Motherhood doesn’t complete the woman, and children are not the missing part that makes her whole. A woman is complete in herself. Nothing is missing in her.

The ‘Beginning’ is a complex Georgian movie that tackles the complex intermingling of patriarchy, religion, and indifference from the state institutions. And in between all this is a mother looking for her freedom and salvation. She either wants to begin a fresh or end it all; we don’t know. Even she didn’t know and was unable to decide her path. I couldn’t sleep for hours after watching the movie and the way a doting mother eventually carves her path of salvation by killing his precious son. This act was the only out of stifling marriage and faithless life.

It must be difficult for her to take this disastrous step, but no one could help her out.

In Mahabharata, Goddess Ganga kills her seven children. She drowns her newborn babies immediately after the birth, one after the other. After the eighth child’s birth, her husband could not resist questioning her cruel act. The husband was oath-bound never to question her; otherwise, Ganga would leave him, but he had to give in this time. Ganga narrates her side of the story where the children were famed sages, and she freed them from their pathetic and mortal lives. But because she couldn’t save the eighth one from his destiny, she had to leave him and go. Ganga is a ferocious river and can never be tamed or questioned, and her husband broke the very fundamental rule.

Medea is a Greek Goddess who kills her sons to take revenge on her husband, leaving her for other women.

There are numerous folktales around mothers killing children. The Juniper Tree from Grimms’ Fairy Tales is a classic story where the stepmother kills the child, though it was initially mother. In Once upon a time, The lure of the fairy tales, Acocella Joan writes that Grimms Brother changed mother to stepmother to make it more acceptable as the idea of a mother killing her children was preposterous.

Nonetheless, the issue of child abuse is also knotted with the mother killing the child. Mothers killing children in some parts of the world are daily news. Religious superstitions entangled mental illness and poverty, and lack of financial resources is a common reason. In some cases, women are victims of domestic abuse or sexual violence. In such dire situations, their only recourse is to kill the children to save them from impending miserable economic and social conditions and doomed life.

There are no simple answers to this complex psychological and social issue.

Source: Acocella Joan, ‘Once Upon a Time, The lure of the fairy tale’. New Yorker July 16, 2012

Image: Shantanu stopping Ganga from drowning the eighth child.

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