“The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints,” the Church’s gospel topics essay “Mother in Heaven” reads.
Although Latter-day Saints know the topic of our Heavenly Mother is sacred and that She is crucial to the plan of salvation, many might wonder why we don’t know more about our divine Mother. In fact, many misconceptions and myths have been circulated about our Mother in Heaven because of the relative silence that surrounds Her.
But Latter-day Saints do have access to many revealed truths about Heavenly Mother, thanks in large part to the Church’s efforts to make historical records, scripture, and documents more accessible than ever before. These truths can help us understand our Mother in Heaven, feel nearer to Her, and understand our own potential in an elevated, clearer way.
To help us draw nearer to our Heavenly Parents, here are some myths and truths regarding our Heavenly Mother it is important for Latter-day Saints to understand.
1. Truth—Heavenly Mother shaped who we are before this life, and She will continue to shape and mentor us through eternity.
The love of our Heavenly Mother has been a constant stream of strength and comfort since premortality. As “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” reveals, “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”
Knowing our spiritual history and makeup alters everything we know about ourselves and our future possibilities. As Sister Kathy Kipp Clayton said in a 2015 Worldwide Devotional, “We have [Heavenly Father’s] spiritual DNA coursing through our veins” (“A Regal Identity”). Because of the revealed doctrine of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” we know that we also have the divine DNA of our Heavenly Mother filling our veins and our souls, allowing us to become like our divine Parents.
Sister Susa Young Gates, daughter of Brigham Young and editor of the Church’s Young Woman’s Journal and Relief Society Magazine, wrote that our Heavenly Mother’s “watchful care” and “careful training” helped shape our souls and prepared us for mortal life and eternal life to come (“Editor’s Department,” Young Woman’s Journal 2). In fact, she stated “our great heavenly Mother was the greater molder” of the prophet Abraham’s nature, “greater than his genetics, his prenatal impressions, his cultural or natural environment, or even his earthly mother’s nurturing” the BYU Studies article “A Mother There” clarifies.
That knowledge of how influential our Heavenly Mother is in each of our lives and destinies can help us each “rise to the stature of the divine” within us (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Rise to the Stature of the Divine within You,” October 1989). And it can help us realize stunning celestial truths.
“There is an exalted woman, the Mother of your spirit, who cares, instructs, and watches over you, who is helping govern the universe. There is someone on your side, urging you to become all you can be, who sent Her son along with the Father to help show you the way,” says Martin Pulido, co-author of the BYU Studies essay “A Mother There” and editor of Dove Song. “That is probably the most important thing for us to grasp. Recognizing there is someone who has had a tremendous influence on us before we came here, who is no doubt thinking about you all the time while you are here and helping you get where you need to be—it is overwhelming. That’s power.”
2. Myth—There is a “sacred silence” surrounding our Heavenly Mother that keeps us from speaking about Her.
Myths have circulated in our culture that have left some Latter-day Saints believing the topic of Heavenly Mother is taboo or deserves a “sacred silence.” While we might not have as much revealed about our Mother in Heaven as we do our Father, much of the silence that surrounds Her stems from our own discomfort or lack of knowledge, not from a Church mandate.
About the myth that Church members must remain quiet about our Heavenly Mother to protect her sacredness, Pulido asks, “How is the temple or God the Father any less sacred” of a topic, or how can any statement from mortal men and women on these topics change their holiness, glory, or nature?
“I had qualms with that [reasoning], and that is partly why Professor Paulson and I wrote the BYU Studies article about Heavenly Mother, to turn that notion on its head and say that’s not really the case,” Pulido says.
If the “sacred silence” theory surrounding Heavenly Mother is a myth, why don’t we talk about her more?
Pulido shares a few insights. “For some, I think it is cultural habits are hard to break. . . . It’s still an entrenched view of having this sacred silence about her, so I think time will just have to heal that wound. I believe the article I wrote and the Church’s article on the topic that followed create a space in which we can speak of her more often. . . and what we do with that space and how we fill that up, I think that is on each of us, in how we choose to speak about Her in our talks, our lessons, our meetings, our conversations, and so on.”
He continues, “I will say here, there are many distinctive parts of our LDS doctrine that we don’t vocalize frequently from the pulpit.” One example Pulido gives is the King Follett Sermon, which revealed the truths that “God was once a man possessing a body of flesh and bone, that God cannot and did not create the world out of nothing, and that the spirit of man is intelligence co-equal with God—these are incredibly distinctive and illuminating doctrines as to what Mormons believe about man’s nature and potential, including the nature of the God they worship,” Pulido says. However, these truths are not mentioned regularly over the pulpit or in our hymns. Pulido continues, “My point is to question whether we can draw an inference between the importance of a topic and the frequency with which it is mentioned over the pulpit.”
One of the main reasons Pulido thinks Mormons do not speak often about Heavenly Mother and doctrines found in the King Follett Sermon is because we are still learning about those truths and how to communicate them with people outside our religion. “We need to remember how young our religion is,” Pulido says. “We are still getting comfortable with and coming to grips with our theology. We are still creating vocabulary and are very self-conscious about beliefs that conflict with mainstream Christian beliefs . . . we're trying to find ways to talk about them intelligently and persuasively. Early Christianity took centuries to codify its texts and symbols in art and theology.”
Latter-day Saints might also shy away from topics like Heavenly Mother because it highlights where our doctrines diverge from the rest of Christianity. While it is good to build common ground, Pulido says, “We need to be comfortable with our peculiar doctrines, like our belief in Heavenly Mother. We’ll get better at explaining and articulating ourselves, even if it takes a while for us to master our mother tongue—pun intended. But we can get there. We should also remember that as a global Church, we proselyte far more than mainstream Christians and that other faiths will be far more amenable to the notion of a Heavenly Mother.”
3. Truth—Heavenly Mother played a vital part in our creation and the plan of salvation.
Elder Melvin J. Ballard taught:
"No matter to what heights God has attained or may attain, he does not stand alone; for side by side with him, in all her glory, a glory like unto his, stands a companion, the Mother of his children. For as we have a Father in heaven, so also we have a Mother there, a glorified, exalted, ennobled Mother. That is a startling doctrine, I recognize, to some folk, and yet we ought to be governed by reason in giving consideration to this doctrine which is a revelation from God" (Sermons and Mission Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard, 205).
Many Church leaders have taught that our Heavenly Parents were both vital not only in the creation of our spirits but of our bodies as well. As Elder M. Russell Ballard taught, “We are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us” (When Thou Art Converted, 62).
Our Heavenly Mother is a creator of universes, a framer of worlds without end, a God over limitless creations, and our eternal Mother working in perfect partnership with our Heavenly Father. And our Heavenly Mother continues to influence and shape our life.
As Patricia Holland shared in a BYU devotional, “In the ongoing process of creation—our creation and the creation of all that surrounds us—our heavenly parents are preparing a lovely tapestry with exquisite colors and patterns and hues. They are doing so lovingly and carefully and masterfully. And each of us is playing a part—our part—in the creation of that magnificent, eternal piece of art” (“Filling the Measure of Creation”).
4. Truth—We know more about our Heavenly Mother’s nature than many might realize.
Since our Heavenly Mother stands as an equal partner side by side with our Heavenly Father, much of what we know about our Father can illuminate our understanding of our Mother. As the Encyclopedia of Mormonism states, “A Heavenly Mother shares parenthood with the Heavenly Father. This concept leads Latter-day Saints to believe that she is like him in glory, perfection, compassion, wisdom, and holiness.” Her unending love, Her glory, Her majesty, the sacrifice of Her Son, Her patient and constant arms reaching out for us, comforting us—many of these eternal truths are equally applicable to our Heavenly Mother and Father.
And the ultimate embodiment of both of our Heavenly Parents’ attributes can be found through their divine Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. As Pulido says, “We can all strive for the same virtues that our Heavenly Mother possesses to the maximal degree, which I believe were shown to us through the ministry and life of Her Son, who can be viewed as the image of both Father and Mother. He is the way.”
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5. Myth—The first mention of Heavenly Mother was published after Joseph Smith’s death.
“Mention of Heavenly Mother did first appear in a publication while Joseph Smith was alive,” Pulido says. While many are familiar with Eliza Snow’s hymn “O My Father,” her famous poem was not the first recorded mention of Heavenly Mother. “The first account was February 1844, four months before Joseph died, in a poem by William W. Phelps [published in the Times and Seasons]. It has a beautiful scene where Heavenly Mother submits to Her Son to be sent to save us. Joseph Smith was the editor of the Times and Seasons, so he would have been aware of this poem. Phelps also ascribed the truth of a Heavenly Mother to Joseph Smith later that year in December 1844, and the following year.”
Many other records also reveal that Joseph Smith taught about our Heavenly Mother to others. For example, Joseph Smith spoke about our Heavenly Mother to the third Relief Society president of the Church, Zina D. Young. After losing her mother to "the most trying of circumstances," Zina was speaking to the prophet about her intense grief and asked the question: "Will I know my mother as my mother when I get over to the Other Side?"
To which Joseph Smith responded, "Certainly you will. More than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven" (History of the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of L.D.S., from November 1869 to June 1910, 16).
6. Truth—Our Heavenly Mother is intimately involved in our lives now.
President Harold B. Lee taught, “Sometimes we think the whole job is up to us, forgetful that there are loved ones beyond our sight who are thinking about us and our children. We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can,” (“The Influence and Responsibility of Women,” Relief Society Magazine 51).
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Speaking beautifully and poetically of our Heavenly Parents’ love, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland compared his and his wife’s love of their children to the infinitely greater capacity of our divine Father and Mother:
“To my beloved Pat and me, our children are more precious possessions than any crown or kingdom this world could offer. There is literally not anything in righteousness we would not do for them; there is no stream so deep nor mountain so high nor desert so wide that we could be kept from calming their fears or holding them close to us. And if we ‘being evil’ can love so much and try so hard, what does that say of a more Godly love that differs from our own as the stars differ from the sun? On a particularly difficult day, or sometimes a series of difficult days, what would this world's inhabitants pay to know that heavenly parents are reaching across those same streams and mountains and deserts, anxious to hold them close?” (“The Meaning of Membership: A Personal Response,” However Long and Hard the Road).
7. Truth—Heavenly Mother changes our ideas of the nature of God and what godhood means.
“Men and women cannot be exalted without each other. Just as we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven,” the Church’s “Mother in Heaven” article emphatically states.
The BYU Studies article “A Mother There” also illuminates this idea, stating, “It should be no surprise, then, that most Mormon leaders could not understand how Father or Mother could be divine alone. For either to be fully God, each must have a partner with whom to share the power of endless lives.”
How does this idea of Heavenly Parents—two divine beings working together to bring about our happiness and exaltation—change the way we envision deity?
“The revelation of Heavenly Mother wasn’t adding an extra God to some Mormon pantheon,” Pulido says. “The revelation of Heavenly Mother was redefining the very nature of what it means to be God.”
While Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father are different, distinct beings, they willingly join together, opening themselves not only to each other but to us. “God's oneness is a voluntary coming together—a marriage and preservation of differences. . . . In that view, no person removed from others or the world is a God. To be a God means to be intimately bound up in a relationship with another,” Pulido says. “To be divine we have to be open to another, which means allowing ourselves to suffer—like when God cries over the world in the Book of Moses. In traditional mainstream Christianity, God cannot be influenced by the world at all. He influences it through pure activity. He affects everything, but nothing affects Him. That is not how we understand God at all. He acts for sure, but He is also acted upon by the Mother, by us, by everyone. He is an incredibly affected, emotional being.”
8. Myth—By not praying to Heavenly Mother, we belittle Her glory or contribution.
As the Church’s gospel topics essay states:
“Latter-day Saints direct their worship to Heavenly Father, in the name of Christ, and do not pray to Heavenly Mother. In this, they follow the pattern set by Jesus Christ, who taught His disciples to ‘always pray unto the Father in my name.’ Latter-day Saints are taught to pray to Heavenly Father, but as President Gordon B. Hinckley said, ‘The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.’”
Likewise, we do not pray to Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost; we are not suggesting they are less divine by doing so. This does not preclude us from mentioning our Savior, the Holy Ghost, or Heavenly Mother within our prayers. Nothing we can do or say could detract from the glory, power, and love of our Mother in Heaven, and while we follow the example of our Savior in praying to our Heavenly Father, there are many ways we can incorporate Heavenly Mother in our worship—including remembering Her role in our creation and the plan of salvation, thinking of Her in the temple, mentioning Her in our prayers, being mindful of Her as we read the scriptures, cultivating gratitude for all She has done for us, and searching for Her influence in our daily lives.
9. Truth—Our Heavenly Mother can help us understand our own identity and what we are capable of.
“As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.” Many Latter-day Saints are familiar with this couplet created by President Lorenzo Snow, one which was inspired by the King Follett Sermon given by Joseph Smith. But the meaning behind this phrase deepens and broadens when we begin to understand God as a Heavenly Father and Mother, united in purpose and Their love for us.
Understanding this truth changes how we see and interact with one another by helping us understand there is divinity within every person. “Our highest aspiration is to become like our heavenly parents, which will empower us to perpetuate our family relationships throughout eternity,” President Dallin H. Oaks shared.
“We are children of God with a spirit lineage to Heavenly Parents,” President Oaksduring general conference. “When we understand our relationship to God, we also understand our relationship to one another. All men and women on this earth are the offspring of God, spirit brothers and sisters. What a powerful idea! No wonder God’s Only Begotten Son commanded us to love one another. If only we could do so! What a different world it would be if brotherly and sisterly love and unselfish assistance could transcend all boundaries of nation, creed, and color.”
Viewing each other not only as brothers and sisters but as souls with the potential to become gods and goddesses can humble and transform us as well as deepen our relationships—including with ourselves. As Pulido say, “The doctrine of spirit birth from divine Parents brings this feeling of belonging and feeling you are indebted to something greater than yourself. This relates to what philosopher Lisa Guenther has noted, which is a central ingratitude arising in humans from forgetting those who sacrificed to make them. For her, birth is an irreplaceable gift-event known as ‘being-from-others.’ The gift is the possibility to have possibilities, and this is not a gift I can repeat, reject, or repay.” No matter what relational challenges, abuse, or struggles we might experience, we can find comfort in knowing we have perfect Heavenly Parents whose love and power are unending—and who both see limitless potential in us.
10. Truth—Our Heavenly Mother helps us understand the power and potential of women.
Elder B.H. Roberts shared that our knowledge of Heavenly Mother testifies of “the nobility of woman and of motherhood and of wifehood—placing her side by side with the Divine Father” (Defense of the Faith and the Saints).
As the BYU Studies essay states, “The soul-making trials of her earthly experience, coupled with continuing growth after a celestial resurrection, helped [Heavenly Mother] hone the qualities of divinity to move her from ‘womanhood to Godhood.’”
Often within our Church we can speak of deity in masculine terms. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are both male, and we refer to the Holy Ghost often using male pronouns. Even angels depicted in our art or Church history are often male, such as Moroni, Michael, Peter, James, John, Elijah, John the Baptist, etc. Without understanding and knowing the reality and nature of our Heavenly Mother, and by failing to incorporate Her in our religious conversations, Pulido says, “Women are bound to feel left out and marginalized. They are bound to ask questions like ‘Where do I belong? Are we somehow less than men? How do I find the divinity, and what's heavenly in me?’”
Knowing women are included in godhood, that heaven is based on the structure of family, helps us understand the power daughters and sons of God possess and the trust our Heavenly Parents have in them.
11. Myth—In honoring our Heavenly Mother we slight the Heavenly Father or takes away from His glory and power.
President Rudger Clawson taught, “It doesn’t take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal Mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mothers in our affections. . . . We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal prototype” (“Our Mother in Heaven,” Millennial Star). As a Husband and Wife—equal partners—working in unison to bring about our exaltation, any praise or glory we give to our Heavenly Father or Mother naturally praises and glorifies the other. In fact, just as the knowledge that we can become gods and goddesses adds to the glory and majesty of God—helping us understand Mother and Father as the parents of future deity, the Gods of gods—the knowledge of a Mother in Heaven brings added power and glory to our understanding of Father in Heaven, and vice versa. Understanding our Heavenly Parents as glorified beings who overcame all mortality could offer, who grew in intelligence and glory to the point of creating universes and spirit children, only adds to Their power and complexity.
12. Truth—Knowing Heavenly Mother can bring power, comfort, and love to our lives.
Orson F. Whitney testified, “It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven" (Faith Precedes the Miracle, 98). Understanding that our Heavenly Parents not only endured mortality but gloriously triumphed over and grew from their challenges in life can empower us no matter what we may face.
And part of that power comes from knowing we are never alone. As Sister Chieko N. Okazaki, former first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, testified:
“I wonder at the strength and courage of our Heavenly Parents, sending us to experience mortality, and of all the deaths they have suffered through with us in our own suffering. We know something of the Father's powerful grief as he withdrew from his Son, Jesus Christ, as Christ fulfilled the Atonement and died on the cross. . . .
“We too can anticipate that when the time comes for us to step through the veil of mortality, leaving our failing and pain-filled bodies behind, we will see the loving smile and feel the welcoming embrace, not only of our Heavenly Parents and of the Savior, but also of our loved ones who will greet us in full vigor, full remembrance, and full love” (Sanctuary, 129-130).
The reality of a loving Mother in Heaven can strengthen us even in times of joy—not only in moments of heartbreak. As Pulido shares, “There is a woman who shaped my soul, who cares and loves me, and who is helping govern this world. She watches the sparrow; She watches each grain of sand and star in the sky; She watches the lilies; She watches me. She is by my side, and She is helping me become all that I can be. That has been enormously powerful on my testimony. Now, I will add here that I feel very deeply in that way about my Heavenly Father, too. Knowing that I have two [Parents] who work together to do that—that empowers me even more.”
13. Truth—There is so much left for us to discover about Heavenly Mother.
“As with many other truths of the gospel, our present knowledge about a Mother in Heaven is limited. Nevertheless, we have been given sufficient knowledge to appreciate the sacredness of this doctrine and to comprehend the divine pattern established for us as children of heavenly parents,” the Church’s essay on Heavenly Mother reads.
While it is true that we have access to an unprecedented number of historical documents, Church essays, quotes, articles, poetry, and art focused on Heavenly Mother that previous generations of Church members never had access to, there is still much for us to discover through study, through personal revelation, and as a church.
About his experience helping research and write the BYU Studies groundbreaking article on Heavenly Mother, Pulido says, “I’m overwhelmed not only by how much has been said but also by how much more there is to know. There is so much more to be uncovered. While working on Dove Song, I became aware of the limited scope of my earlier research on Heavenly Mother, which had zeroed in on English LDS sources, and failed to include foreign language works. I realize how much more is available for me to research now from these international works, which in combination with additional English material uncovered (we had lots of gaps in the middle 20th century due to lack of digitized records, likely warrants a revision of that prior article.”
14. Myth—We can understand Heavenly Mother’s role by understanding gender roles in our culture today.
Often people try to explain the relationship of our Heavenly Father and Mother by projecting our cultural ideas onto their relationship. As the BYU Studies article notes, many scholars and writers “lament that Latter-day Saints usually acknowledge her existence only, without delving further into her character or roles, or portray her as merely a silent, Victorian-type housewife valued only for her ability to reproduce.”
Pulido adds, “I see the problem with [trying to understand God by using anthropomorphic and human-shaping reasoning] is that social roles for and between men and women are not agreed upon around the world now, nor will they in the future. . . . Wherever and whenever we are, we need to be open to thinking beyond our current day’s social roles for our Heavenly Parents. This includes not scoffing at traditional ones, like bearing and rearing children.”
We’re blessed to know that our Heavenly Mother is equal to our Father in Heaven not only in power and love, but also in Her complexity and abilities. While our Heavenly Parents are distinct and might carry out different roles, there is little doubt that both are essential and both accomplish feats beyond our current mortal understanding.
As Elder Glenn L. Pace testified at a BYU devotional:
“Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and you look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.”
Tyler Chadwick, Dayna Patterson, and Martin Pulido recently created an anthology of Mormon poetry focused on Heavenly Mother entitled Dove Song, which includes some art. Spanning early Church history to modern day, Dove Song includes 138 poems from 80 poets and artists such as William W. Phelps, Eliza R. Snow, John Lyons, Lula Greene Richards, Carol Lynn Pearson, Linda Sillitoe, and so many more. Alongside many unknown