PSYCHOLOGY: The Great Mother Ranch. 1946

Extracts from “How a Father’s Daughter Found Her Mother”
by Lynda Wheelwright Schmidt


I grew up in the Artemis mode.

Artemis was a goddess whose childhood was spent on the wild island of Delos, without supervision. Her mother, Leto, was left by Zeus, Artemis father, and Artemis had little relationship with either parent. Zeus was glamorous and all-powerful, while Leto was less visible. Artemis took after Zeus and became powerful, independent, and solitary; she was the goddess of childbirth but was not motherly. It is not surprising, then, that the Artemis type of father’s daughter has a difficulty with supervision. She was never supervised, and so she does not want supervision later, nor does she want to exercise it over others.

In my own life, I sought out men, but deep down a father’s daughter I wanted to please men and, whenever I was near them, that is what I did, When there was no one around, though, I fell into the unconscious and merged with nature in a “participation mystique.” So it was not that I had no experience of the Great Mother; it’s just that she did not speak English or wear a dress.

There are many other types of fathers’ daughters, including those who are initially merged with their mothers and come under the spell of their fathers later on. Perhaps such a woman could be described as apparent fathers’ daughters, but through los of the father—by death, divorce, or prolonged absence, literal or psychic—come under the control of powerful mothers. Such a mother may exert her power over her daughter  overtly by overwhelming her with a domineering, possessive attitude, or by overtly by subtle manipulation. Either way, this daughter may have begun as a tomboy, or daddy’s girl, or companion of the father, only to lose him while still a child or young adolescent. If the mother has a powerful will (and perhaps consciously or unconsciously, drove the father away), this young girl may fall under her spell and develop as an apparent mother’s daughter. She has a particularly confusing situation because she is going to feel the masculine energy within but have no channel to pour into. Yet the Mother World does not quite work for her either, so she may find herself hanging suspended between the two.

My own experience of the Mother World was nearly completely archetypal—that is, impersonal—as was my mother’s before me. She and I, in our different eras, grew up on an enormous cattle ranch, more or less unsupervised, free to live or die in the heart of a vast wilderness of ocean, range country, and mountains. Our companions were siblings and cousins of similar age, plus animals of all sorts—from the domestic horses, cattle, and dogs, to the wildest mountain lions, coyotes and rattlesnakes. We had sublime and lethal adventures, and everything in between. But we had little human mothering. We did get solid fathering from the cowboys, who expected as much from us girls as they did from the boys.

Because of their special vision and drive, my mother and father had business in the world that really could not include rearing children in the conventional way. For me, then, the major resource for my life was the wilderness, nature (which is the Great Mother/Female Self) in an unarticulated form. My principle mother was, therefore, an archetype, an atmosphere, a geography. There was minimal flesh and blood personal mothering; and so, as Artemis ran wild with her twin, Apollo in the forests, so did I, on a wild cattle ranch, with my same-age cousin, Jimmy (J.J. Hollister III).

The ranch, as I knew it in the 1940s, was rich in materials. There were treasures everywhere, and I have always collected from nature like a packrat–special stones, odd bits of wood or shells, rattles from snakes, arrowheads, bones, horns , feathers. So many things. It was not until I worked in my analyst’s sandtray building imaginary scenes out of all sorts of objects, which would reveal the hidden state of my psyche, and later began to collect objects for my own sandtray, that I began to link up with the materialism of manmade things.

On the ranch we had few toys because we had everything else to play with. Our clothes were always the same: blue jeans, shirt, and tennis shoes or cowboy boots. Our hair stuck out of our heads any which way, knotted like horses’ tails.  To this day, I comb my hair only once in the morning and again at night.

It makes me nervous to think of a human mother having the power over me that nature did, yet it is my impression that is what it is like for mothers’ daughters. On the ranch we had to keep tuned to everything going on around us, or else we would be in danger for our lives. We had to be alert for booby traps in the ground, such as gopher holes, that would trip us or our horses, breaking legs or heads. We had to swim in the ocean with constant caution against being crushed by great waves or swept away by the undertow. We had to watch for rattlers, scorpions, black widow spiders, pay heed that we not fall off a suddenly turning cowpony, or be run over by an angry bull, or kicked by a frightened calf. We had to read the minds of animals and cowboys or be humiliated or injured.

Is this what it is like to be a mother’s daughter?

On the positive side, the ranch was eternal, enveloping, life giving, exciting, familiar, and unknown. To this day, I go there and feel renewed, exultant, alert, and complete. This, too, may be what it is like to be a mother’s daughter.
The Great Mother Ranch … makes an excellent model for the female world, and it surprises me sometimes that I failed to transfer that experience consciously to the human level. There is, however, one realm in which I did make the transfer, though I was not conscious of it until writing this…That realm is my psychotherapy practice. Having little or no maternal development in consciousness, I tend to be heavily mothering unconsciously.


What made it possible for me to find my way into a satisfying relationship with my mother after that was finding a common ground on which we could meet as two persons. This we did on the ranch, the archetypal Mother to both of us. Thus we seem to have found an equality, a sistership—a twinship even. It also seems to hlp that we are the same type, according to Jung’s theory,: introverted sensation-thinking types).

Even as she grew up in a literal twinship, with her brother, Clinty, so did I grow up in a figurative twinship with my cousin Jimmy. Now my mother and I seem twins to each other, and we each again have a person who knows without effort a similar experience of life, especially as it is experienced through terrain, animals, and physical activity.


Psychological Perspectives volume 14 Number 1, 1983
Reprinted as chapter 6 of To Be a Woman: the Birth of the Conscious Feminine, 1990, edited by Connie Zweig.