REVIEW: Motherghost by Eclipse Neilson
Motherghost: A Journey to the Mother, a memoir by Eclipse Neilson, Star Meadow Press, trade paperback (2012), 240 pages; also available as a Kindle e-book (2013).
People come to Goddess in a variety of ways. For some of us, like me, the initial path is intellectual, through reading books or through our own feminist analysis of our original religion. For others the beginning is more spiritual, a pull toward polytheism, pantheism, nature as sacred. And for some it is more personal, a way to affirm the positive or replace the negative aspects of our human mothers. It is the latter, along with her long-time feeling of closeness to nature, that seems to have played a large part in Eclipse Neilson’s finding the Goddess, and of which she writes in her heart-felt memoir. Motherghost. She dedicates the book to Isis:
"She who picks up the pieces,
Whose lap is the throne of heaven,
Whose heart holds her child forever."
Eclipse was given the name Robin at birth. Her parents, Alfred and Stephanie, hung out with the poet-artist-theater crowd in New York City. Among their (some not-yet famous) friends were Beatrice Arthur, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, and Bob Hope. After Alfred disappeared when Robin was a toddler, Stephanie relinquished her into foster care just before her second birthday. Robin stayed with two foster families. In the first she was abused. The second, a happier experience in which Robin bonded with her foster mother who reminded her of Doris Day, ended abruptly for Robin when she was between 3 and 4 years old and Stephanie gave her up for adoption. In the book’s Introduction, Eclipse writes of her biological mother’s actions:
This is just one of the many magical/spiritual experiences that Eclipse writes about. Another was seeing fairies. Of these and other early memories before the age of 4 she writes that she is not quite sure which parts actually happened and which she made up, a relatively common experience with early childhood memories.
In her adoptive parents' car on the way to her new home, her adoptive mother, Frances Neilson, who reminds Robin of the young Bette Davis, insists that her first name is now “Marcy,” and that the change of first name is necessary because her biological mother didn’t love her. When Robin objects both to the new name and the idea that Stephanie didn’t love her, Frances replies, “ ‘After all, she gave you away, didn’t she?’ ”
Robin/Marcy seems to get off on a better footing with her adoptive father, but unfortunately this doesn’t last forever. The Neilson family includes several siblings and dogs. Eclipse describes both adoptive parents as alcoholic, and Frances as being alternately (and thus confusingly) spiritually compatible and abusive. Her wealthy adoptive parents had friends among the rich and famous in several countries whom “Marcy” met. They included Robert Frost, Igor Stravinsky, and Willem de Kooning. She also met some famous people on her own, for example while selling her art on the Spanish Steps in Rome at the age of 15, a woman who said she was “Mrs. Ex Rockefeller,” bought one of her paintings. And a man, who Eclipse describes as a controversial “prince of the royal family of Italy,” offered to back a show of Marcy’s art. But Marcy’s adoptive father wouldn’t allow the show, because “Fame at too early an age can destroy the spirit of a young artist.”
Rome was the second of two countries where Marcy attended boarding school in the 1960s. Surrounded by Roman and Etruscan art she experienced early Goddess intimations but the knowledge base wasn’t there for her to fully understand their implications. She was sent to the first of the boarding schools, in Switzerland, as what her adoptive mother thought would be a punishment, but it turned out that Marcy liked it, developed in a positive direction, and found a particularly nurturing teacher there.
Back in the States, still in her teens, Marcy experienced a difficult time, as did many others, especially of her generation. Aggravated by her rebelliousness, her adoptive parents kicked her out of the family home near Philadelphia. Going first to NYC (barefoot!), Marcy took refuge in one of her adoptive sibling’s homes near Providence RI, and became enrolled in “one of the top” Rhode Island private schools, from which she proudly graduated. The author takes us through adventures during her years at art college and several years thereafter, including a foray into drugs whose main aim was to find her “mother,” and from which she emerges through the intervention of a female spirit. The author also takes us with her on her journey to becoming a mother herself, to her involvement with feminism, to her persistent search for her biological mother and other family members, and to her discovery of her relationship with the Goddess, a path which, in retrospect, she has been on for most of her remembered life. An in-depth exploration of “Finding the Goddess,” comes towards the end of the memoir, beginning with a concert and ritual led by Kay Gardner. It is in this section we discover how Eclipse’s “true name” is revealed to her, and how Goddess led her to healing of the relationships with her mothers, and to animal rights work. Further on, this often tumultuous memoir has a beautiful ending that I treasure too much to reveal before you read the book.
The incidents of which Eclipse writes do not appear chronologically in the book. This gives the story the novelistic feel of flashbacks and flashforwards. It’s also certainly a valid way of presenting material from one’s life—like a friend telling you about an incident in her life and then being reminded of something else. It’s not quite rambling, but rather a relaxed, informal, way of telling.
Today Eclipse Neilson is a visionary artist, human and animal rights activist, and director of Woman Soul at Rowe Camp & Conference Center in Massachusetts. She has led eco-feminist spirituality workshops for more than three decades and is also founder of the Magaian Way, a program that teaches visionary practices. She is designer of C.O.P.E. (Circles of Peace Education), a program that addresses bullying in schools. According to Rowe's Star Meadow Press page , proceeds from the sale of Motherghost from the site will benefit The Iris Fund for establishing a women’s library. [updated 11/15]
The back cover of the Motherghost includes endorsements by Starhawk, Margot Adler, and Chief Luisah Teish.