The Mother, the Dove, Mercy, and the Holy Spirit

Sep 24, 2017
12 min read

For the past couple of years, I’ve been coming across fascinating tidbits of information that appear to show connections between the Holy Spirit and our Heavenly Mother. During a recent morning family scripture study in 1 Nephi 11, I noticed a couple of interesting things and I’ll share some of the details.

In verse 16, the angel asks Nephi “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” When Nephi appears not to know the answer, (vs.17) the angel shows him this beautiful, fair virgin again and reveals that she is “the mother of the Son of God” (vs.18) and she is shown with a child in her arms. (vs.20) The angel tells Nephi that this child is “the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father” (vs.21)

The angel then asks Nephi another question: “Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” (vs.21) Nephi answers knowingly that the tree “is the love of God.” (vs.22) Nephi then sees many people worship Jesus and explains his understanding of the iron rod and the fountain of water. (vs.24-25)

Now that Nephi understands the meaning of the tree the angel says “Look and behold the condescension of God!” (vs.23) It is at this point that the angel shows Nephi key events in the life of Jesus from his baptism to his crucifixion. What I want to focus on what I believe are parallel elements that follow the two verses that mention the phrase “the condescension of God.”

There is a distinct mother and son presence in these verses, and it isn’t quite apparent at first. We see the Spirit mentioned in direct conjunction with a birth and a rebirth account as well; these things are significant so take note!

The dove and the Mother

After Nephi is asked to “Look and behold the condescension of God!” he sees John baptize Jesus and notes that “after he was baptized, I beheld the heavens open, and the Holy Ghost come down out of heaven and abide upon him in the form of a dove.” (vs.27)

There are only two accounts of the baptism of Jesus in the Book of Mormon (the other is in 2 Nephi 31:8) and Nephi is the author of them both. They share a similarity with John’s account in that the God the Father’s famous quote “This is/Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (John 1:32) is not mentioned. We do see the Father appear in four other accounts of the baptism (Matthew 3:17, Luke 3:22, Mark 1:11, Doctrine and Covenants 93:15), but not in Nephi’s vision.

Is it by chance or intentionally that Book of Mormon doesn’t mention the Father in the account of Jesus’ baptism? It seems that at least in the context of Nephi’s vision that the Father’s presence was deliberately left out so that only Jesus and the dove are the focus. What is going on here?

If you remember the elements mentioned after the first “condescension” verse, I believe they are present after the second one as well. The condescension of God is shown in two parallel forms using two similar events from Jesus’ life, his birth and his rebirth. With his birth, his body was physically provided by Mary, his earthly mother. His rebirth involves the baptism of fire which is associated with a dove, which I propose is a symbol of his Heavenly Mother; at least in the context of this vision.

Have you ever wondered “why a dove?” What could a dove have meant to the ancient people who witnessed or heard about this event? Could it be that the dove had a significance that is lost on us today? Anytime I ask myself a question like that the answer is almost always, “yes.”

Here are two quotes the explain how the dove was an ancient symbol for the divine feminine.

“In the Ancient Near East, the dove was a symbol of a female deity of love and fecundity: Ishtar, Astarte, Tanit, Anat, ‘Ata, and Atargis. […] In ancient Levant, doves were sacred to all great Mothers and Queens, and of Heaven, the mother of all, who nourished the earth. “In the heavens I take my place and send rain, on the earth I take my place and cause the green to spring forth.” From Mesopotamia to the Greco-Roman world, the Great Mother was seen as the symbol of fertility, the renewal of life for both man and the fruits of the earth. Babylon was the city of the dove. There, the goddess Semiramis was symbolized as a dove … the form she was supposed to have assumed on leaving the earth. […] In Christian lore and tradition (4), the dove is usually the symbol of the Holy Spirit or “heavenly messenger,” particularly found in portrayals of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. […]” (Source)

“There is strong evidence in the Hebrew Bible, as well as the archaeological record, that many ancient Israelites believed the goddess Asherah was the consort of their god Yahweh. Perhaps it is not so surprising, then, that the heirs of this Israelite religion incorporated the “feminine” symbol of the dove to represent the spirit of God (the word for “spirit,” ruach, is a feminine word in Hebrew). The Babylonian Talmud likens the hovering of God’s spirit in Genesis 1:2 to the hovering of a dove. Indeed, this same “hovering” language is used to describe God’s spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as the New Testament.” (Source)

If ancient people saw the dove as a divine feminine symbol, think what this must have communicated to Nephi. In 1 Nephi 11, God’s condescension involves the elements of mothers and birth, along with the symbols of a tree and a dove. The dove has a connection to a divine feminine aspect, and even the Hebrew word for spirit is feminine.

Daniel C. Peterson gave an excellent presentation a few years back on the subject of a divine mother and her connection to trees in Nephi’s vision which I have embedded below and highly recommend.

There may be another potential connection between the tree and the dove in the great flood account. Noah releases a female dove which comes back with the leaf of an olive tree in her mouth.

“And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off…” (Genesis 8:11)

The apostle Peter associated the great flood with baptism as well and mentioned the number eight with is also connected with rebirth and regeneration.

“…when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us…” (1 Peter 3:20-21)

We have a dove, tree, and baptism/birth/rebirth all as linked themes and I think these links are present in Nephi’s vision as well. I know this is a lot to take in and I’ve only barely scratched the surface here in this post. I believe the dove in the context of Nephi’s vision is a veiled reference to Heavenly Mother which in turn portrays a strong connection that exists between her and the Holy Spirit.

Mercy and the Mother

When Alma teaches the Zoramites the words of two prophets named Zenos and Zenock, whose writings were on the brass plates, we find the repetition of the phrase “because of thy Son” four times (Zenos 3, Zenock 1) in conjunction with mercy and judgment.

Zenos states that “…it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me…” (Alma 33:11) and notes that mercy turns away judgment because of the Son “…thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son. … Thou hast turned away thy judgments because of thy Son.” (Alma 33:11,13)

Zenock states “they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son.” (Alma 33:16) The testimonies of Zenos and Zenock illustrate the connections between judgment, mercy, and the Son which seems to parallel a future discourse from Alma where he explains justice, (judgment) mercy, and the atonement.

Alma explains that the resurrection will bring us back into the presence of God “to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.” (Alma 42:23) There is a connection here between judgment and justice. Now observe when Alma explains to his son Corianton “For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own…” (Alma 42:24) and “…mercy cometh because of the atonement…” (vs.23)

The word atonement is connected to mercy by Alma the same way the Son is connected to mercy by Zenos and Zenock. From Alma, we see justice (judgment) represented as masculine (his) while mercy is feminine, (her). If you turn back to the vision of Nephi, you see a tree and fruit and then a virgin and a child. Mercy and the atonement could be synonymous with the Mother and the Son while justice and judgment could represent the Father.

Justice/Judgment = the Father
Mercy = the Mother
Atonement = the Son

In Lehi’s vision, he wanders for hours in darkness until “I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies.” (1 Nephi 8:) After he prays he notices a large field and then he says “I beheld a tree…” (vs.10)

In Nephi’s vision it isn’t the fruit but the tree (mercy) that he says “… is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.” (vs.22)

While the tree is synonymous with Mary, it doesn’t make sense that this mortal Mary would be the “love of God.” I propose that the love of God is associated with mercy, the Spirit, the baptism of fire and rebirth. I think that Nephi was shown Mary as a mother to understand the meaning of the tree, so he would be prepared to make a connection with Jesus’ condescension, rebirth, and the meaning of the dove and the Holy Spirit.

Birth is a female act, and it always seemed weird to me that baptism and rebirth are connected with Jesus who is a male. When you think about it though, the ordinance of immersion in water is not the rebirth we are promised; it is just a symbolic act. The real rebirth involves a baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost; the atonement of Christ makes mercy possible. Could it be then that our second birth involves our Heavenly Mother?

After all, Jesus doesn’t just materialize out of thin air, he comes forth from a mother, and at his rebirth, the Holy Ghost comes down from heaven in the form of a dove/mother/goddess symbol. Perhaps the lesson here is that all births involve mothers, even our spiritual rebirth.

I believe that the love of God that Nephi refers to is the baptism of fire, the gift of the Holy Ghost/Spirit (ruach, a feminine word in Hebrew). Nephi and the angel mention a few items of note in their exchange, take a look:

“Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul. (1 Nephi 11:21-23)

Three elements stuck out to me:

  1. Shedding abroad in the heart
  2. Joy
  3. Soul

The love of God is being projected outward into the heart, is desirable and brings joy to the soul which sounds like an exact description of what the Spirit does. Note the following verses of scripture and the themes of filling, joy, the Spirit, fire and being born of God:

“…the fruit […] was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. […] And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy…” (1 Nephi 8:11-12)

“And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins;” (Mosiah 4:12)

“…my soul was filled with joy […] there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy. […] …that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (Alma 36:20-21,24)

“…they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory. […] the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire…” (Helaman 5:44-45)

It seems very clear that there are connections between all of these themes. When you associate Nephi’s vision with these other verses and consider the feminine/mother elements introduced with the tree, virgin, and dove, I believe that there is a distinct divine feminine influence which possibly points to our Heavenly Mother.

Final thoughts

In the Godhead, we have a Father, Son, and a… “Holy Spirit,” or ruach hakodesh (the word ruach being feminine, remember). The identity of this holy spirit is a mystery, and we know very little about them. In the King James New Testament, we see the holy ghost and holy spirit mentioned. First off, the Greek word pneúma is neuter and has no gender; secondly, there is just that one word that the English translators rendered as either “ghost” or “spirit.” Those translators also imposed a “he” upon the spirit instead of the neutral “it” as it was in the Greek. Both ruach and pneúma mean “wind” or “breath” and holy refers to something being consecrated or set apart for a special purpose.

What if one day the Godhead was revealed to consist of the Father, Son, and Mother? It would make a lot of sense on one level, but we can’t go around claiming something that is currently unknown and unrevealed no matter how valid we think it might be. For example, I was tempted to include one of my theories here, but I don’t want to write convincingly about an idea potentially littered with false doctrine.

Evidence appears to show some connection between the Holy Spirit and Heavenly Mother. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Holy Spirit is or must be our Mother or even a female. All I can say at this point is that there are many connections and parallels but no definitive answers as to what they ultimately mean.

The idea is tempting because I think we are all curious as to what Heavenly Mother’s role is and what she’s been doing this whole time. The word “mother” holds a tender place in the consciousness of humanity. While we know far more about the Father and Son, I think we would like to know more about her too.

As these connections are explored, I think it is helpful to note that our heavenly parents are one and that they both love and cherish us. I think they are both more involved in our lives that we perceive and I hope for the day when everything is clear.

Until then, the scriptures unveil satisfying little treasures while reminding us how little we know and understand about the big picture.


  1. There are female Gods because exalted couples receive the fullness of the priesthood and attain Godhood. However, modern revelation and prophetic teachings indicate that all three personages in the Godhead, including the Holy Ghost/Spirit, or Testator, are male. The Godhead has been termed the First Presidency of Heaven, and rightly so. As above, so below.

    While it can be enlightening to dive into the linguistics of the original tongues of scripture, including what you are embarking on here, understanding the worldview of the ancients who recorded them can be almost as imperative as having the Spirit to understand them. The functional nature of Hebrew contrasts the abstract nature of Greek. Rather than suggest a female identity in the personage of the Holy Ghost, however, perhaps the feminine descriptors attributed to aspects of the Godhead better refer to certain of their functions? This deserves elaboration.

    • Do you have any specific quotes or teachings that confirm the gender of the Holy Ghost/Spirit? I think it would be good to explore those whatever they might say. I realize that many times we hear leaders say “he” when referring to the Holy Ghost/Spirit but is this a statement of fact or a reflection of one’s familiarity with the masculine gender that was imposed by the English translators?

      The Godhead may be termed by us as the first presidency of heaven, but I think there are greater parallels to the family with a husband and wife which is actually the core unit of the church, not the officers and leadership.

      James E. Talmage wrote:

      “In the restored Church of Jesus Christ the Holy Priesthood is conferred, as an individual bestowal, upon men only, and this in accordance with Divine requirement. It is not given to woman to exercise the authority of the Priesthood independently; nevertheless, in the sacred endowments associated with the ordinances pertaining to the House of the Lord, woman shares with man the blessings of the Priesthood. When the frailities and imperfections of mortality are left behind, in the glorified state of the blessed hereafter, husband and wife will administer in their respective stations, seeing and understanding alike, and cooperating to the full in the government of their family kingdom. Then shall woman be recompensed in rich measure for all the injustice that womanhood has endured in mortality. Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state, even as exalted man shall stand, priest and king unto the Most High God.”

      It appears that the order in the celestial world is different than that of the mortal world. This, at least in my mind, raises the possibility that the order of the priesthood in the church operates differently than the Godhead which may resemble the order of the family more than it would the church which is a temporary construct.

      The order of heaven is marriage-based, a husband and wife who operate as one in the government of their family kingdom at least according to Talmage.

      I agree with you on the “as above, so below” pattern in the sense that I think the Godhead may mirror marriage and family more than it does church organization. I do think the church organization and the orders of the priesthood follow the same patterns to the degree possible within a large group of interconnected family kingdoms.

      What is still unexplained are the feminine aspects that exist all over the place. I agree with you wholeheartedly that this deserves further elaboration. Personally, I find it all very interesting and I have no doubt that we’ll understand it more in the future. If you’ve studied the gospel in any seriousness at all, you’ll be familiar with a host of dangling unanswered questions and paradoxes. While sometimes I yearn for a concrete answer, I do like knowing that there are still many worlds out there to explore and if I’m patient, I get little glimpses here and there along the way.

  2. Richard J. Nobbe III

    Regarding the symbolism, I think there is a lot here of true merit that is worthy of serious reflection, study, and discovery. As you say, all things are Kung Fu, and I see gospel parallels here that are evident on very deep levels. Like yourself, I’m hesitant to say too much both because of the sacred nature of the subject and because it’s personal revelation for me. Suffice it to say you can see a strong connection between female, earth, dove, seasons, cycles, cleansing by water, birth, Mother of the Son of God (the Bread of Life), the body (earth) that is life-giving (the tree), blood, etc… It is also fascinating to note that woman is traditionally a representative of the number four, which can also represent the four corners of the earth. As the gospel is to go to the four corners of the earth, so the Holy Spirit was given to all on the Day of Pentecost, and His (Her) ??? mission is to testify of the reality and the divinity of the Lamb of God to the Jews AND the gentiles, (North, South, East, West).

    As to the literal personage of the third member of the Godhead………..I have absolutely no idea. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t be surprised either way. But I’m not sure it matters. Mother IS indeed there, and you can see the Divine Feminine in heaven and on earth.

    • Yeah, honestly I don’t know for sure either. I don’t have super strong opinions either way and if I had more time I’d point out the connections that exist between divine fatherhood as well. I think my point is that they are both there but the divine feminine aspects are often overlooked. We know and state that there is a Heavenly Mother but leave it at that. There’s no idea of who she is or what she does. Then you see all these connections in the scriptures and while it doesn’t necessarily prove roles, duties, or doctrine, there is a presence and I wonder who else it could be describing. I don’t think I have come across enough information to say, “Ah ha, definitive proof!” I think the connections are worth pointing out because they exist and I don’t think we are better off ignoring them.

      • Richard J. Nobbe III

        I agree. Thanks for shedding light on a very important and curious topic.

        I think there are many answers in the scriptures and in the temple for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. You’ve definitely brought a lot of these ideas to light. I wish we knew more about Heavenly Mother too, but I’m sure she’s veiled for a wise purpose.

        I know this is the standard answer for most Latter-day Saints, but the idea that she is too sacred, too precious to the Father and to the Son does merit a degree of significance in my mind. If you think about the commandment to “not take the Lord’s name in vain,” I sometimes think we do not understand the depth of that doctrine. To Deity, sacrilege of the divine feminine must be infinitely worse – an abhorrent abomination to everything sacred.

        • I have never found any scriptural basis for the idea that she is too sacred or precious and needs protection. I’ve heard that but I think it is mostly just a theory we repeat to explain the unexplained. That said, here is another possible explanation for why this knowledge is veiled:

          “For behold, if ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it, behold, this is a sin which is unpardonable…” Alma 39:6

          After all, to be born again is to be born of the Spirit, the gift of the Holy Ghost. Birth is a distinct power that mothers bear. Sure, there is Jesus in this, but remember he was the fruit of the tree, the tree was revealed to be a woman, a mother.

          “And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” Matt 12:32

          Maybe another way to say this is that you can deny the Son, but you cannot deny the Mother. When you think about it, there is no better witness of a child than the mother who bore them. Is there a more intimate relationship than that of mother and child?

          I see this in Nephi’s vision.

          • Richard J. Nobbe III

            Having spent the first 18 years of my life as a Catholic, I find this doctrine interesting in the sense that Catholics arguably place the center of their theology around Mary the Mother of God more so than around Jesus The Christ, (I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing, it’s just reminiscent to me of Catholic Catechism). After all, faithful Catholics pray the rosary every day saying,

            “Hail Mary, Full of Grace,
            The Lord is with Thee.
            Blessed art Thou among Women,
            And Blessed is the Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus.
            Holy Mary, Mother of God,
            Pray for us sinners,
            Now, and at the hour of our death, amen.”

            I’ve always wondered why the Catholic Church places so much emphasis on the Mother of God, and not the “Fruit of (her) Womb.” In my mind, the symbol of Mary, the Mother of God as the “tree,” and Jesus, the Son of God as the “fruit of the tree” is congruent with Catholic thought, worship, and doctrinal emphasis. Perhaps there is a tradition here that is worth further research and study that may shed some light on our own doctrine. At the very least, Latter-day Saints could learn from Catholics and vice-versa.

            Maybe we’re all more more alike than we think!?

          • Seems like there is something more there doesn’t it? It wouldn’t surprise me if there was some fascinating common ground that we are both looking past.

  3. Very interesting excellent made me feel warm and special inside. Thanks to the mother and heavenly father we just might make it out of this mess.

  4. 1 Nephi 11:11 And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof—for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.

    The Holy Ghost is explicitly referred to as male here. I understand that it could be a product of the culture at the time when Joseph Smith translated it, but I don’t believe that Joseph had much of a say in what came out in the translation.

    I like the idea of the Godhead consisting of the Father, Mother, and Son. But for now, I’m not convinced. As far as the Mother’s role in God’s plan I have a few ideas. I think that she may be the one giving life to the Earth and that the term ‘mother Earth’ may not be far off. I also think that she may be playing a huge part in helping souls out of God’s presence to come to Earth. The Father is the focus now that we are alive, but perhaps before we were born the Mother was the focus.

    One other random thing, this one I definitely believe, is that the angel who comforted Christ in the garden was His Mother.

    • Thanks for the comment, it IS tough because we don’t have much to go on in the case of the identity of the third member of the Godhead or Heavenly Mother. Everything at this point is speculation and theories based on whatever one considers the evidence. You mentioned that the Holy Ghost was explicitly referred to as male by Nephi. However, that isn’t entirely true. Nephi does identify the one he is speaking as being “in the form of a man” but he says that it is “the Spirit of the Lord” not “the Holy Ghost.”

      A few years back I did an analysis of all the titles in the Book of Mormon that appear to be connected with the Holy Spirit. The phrase “Holy Ghost” is pretty rare but it is used heavily by Nephi and then there is a long span where we only see 8 other mentions until Jesus comes to preach and we see that phrase as the preferred term until the end of the Book of Mormon. Here’s something to think about though, is the phrase “Spirit of the Lord” synonymous with the third member of the Godhead, or could the spirit of the Lord be a title given to a guide or messenger from God?

      I think the latter could be a possibility because we never see the third member of the Godhead present themselves in a visible form. That doesn’t mean that it is impossible and Nephi could have very well been speaking to the third member of the Godhead, however, God likes patterns and since there isn’t any other witness to this, I think it leaves open the possibility that there is a third member of the Godhead but that the possibly innumerable interactions humans over time have had with “the spirit” are actually messengers, endowed through the divine investiture of authority, doing the will of the “Holy Spirit.” These messengers may be our own ancestors or perhaps future posterity yet to be born, giving new importance to why temple work brings blessings.

      This may be the reason that we only know this title “The Holy Spirit/Ghost” which actually means something like “consecrated breath or wind” in Greek and Hebrew. Nephi would have been saying something like “I knew that it was the [consecrated breath of Jehovah]; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.” We may not know a specific identity because it is a title that covers a larger work done by many souls.

      I take this idea from symbolism. When symbols are used, it is so that many things may be said simultaneously. If God wants to say one thing, he says it clearly, when he wants to say potentially infinite things, he uses symbols.

      It’s not a point of contention though, like I said, it’s all speculation and without further light, we are all left to wonder. When the truth is finally revealed, God never ceases to disappoint.

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