Gaia (mythology)

Gaia (mythology)

Gaia steps out of her chariot - detail of a sarcophagus in Glyptotheck in Munich

Gaia steps out of her chariot – detail of a sarcophagus in Glyptotheck in Munich
Gaia (pronounced /‘geɪ.ə/ or /‘gaɪ.ə/) (“land” or “earth“, from the Greek Γαîα; also Gaea or Ge (Greek Γῆ) is the primal Greek goddess personifying the Earth.

Gaia is a primordial and chthonic deity in the Ancient Greek pantheon and considered a Mother Goddess or Great Goddess.

Her equivalent in the Roman pantheon was Terra.

Contents

[hide]

[edit] In Greek mythology

Hesiod‘s Theogony (116ff) tells how, after Chaos, arose broad-breasted Gaia the everlasting foundation of the gods of Olympus. She brought forth Uranus, the starry sky, her equal, to cover her, the hills, and the fruitless deep of the Sea, Pontus, “without sweet union of love,” out of her own self through parthenogenesis. But afterwards, Hesiod tells, she lay with her son, Uranus, and bore the World-Ocean Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and the Titans Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, and Phoebe of the golden crown, and lovely Tethys. “After them was born Cronus the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.”

Hesiod mentions Gaia’s further offspring conceived with Uranus: first the giant one-eyed Cyclopes: Brontes (“thunderer”), Steropes (“lightning”) and the “bright” Arges: “Strength and might and craft were in their works.” Then he adds the three terrible hundred-handed sons of Earth and Heaven, the Hecatonchires: Cottus, Briareos and Gyges, each with fifty heads.

Greek deities
series
Primordial deities
Chthonic deities
Hades and Persephone,
Gaia, Demeter, Hecate,
Iacchus, Trophonius,
Triptolemus, Erinyes

Uranus hid the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes in Tartarus so that they would not see the light, rejoicing in this evil doing. This caused pain to Gaia (Tartarus was her bowels) so she created grey flint (or adamantine) and shaped a great flint sickle, gathering together Cronos and his brothers to ask them to obey her. Only Cronos, the youngest, had the daring to take the flint sickle she made, and castrate his father as he approached Gaia to have intercourse with her. And from the drops of blood and semen, Gaia brought forth still more progeny, the strong Erinyes and the armoured Gigantes and the ash-tree Nymphs called the Meliae.

From the testicles of Uranus in the sea came forth Aphrodite. For this, a Greek etymologist urged, Uranus called his sons “Titans,” meaning “strainers” for they strained and did presumptuously a fearful deed, for which vengeance would come afterwards; for, as Uranus had been deposed by his son, Cronos, so was Cronos destined to be overthrown by Zeus, the son born to him by his sister-wife Rhea. In the meantime, the Titans released the Cyclopes from Tartarus, and Cronos was awarded the kingship among them, beginning a Golden Age.

After Uranus’s castration, Gaia gave birth to Echidna and Typhon by Tartarus. By Pontus, Gaia birthed the sea-deities Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto and Eurybia.

Zeus hid Elara, one of his lovers, from Hera by hiding her under the earth. His son by Elara, the giant Tityas, is therefore sometimes said to be a son of Gaia, the earth goddess, and Elara.

Gaia also made Aristaeus immortal.

Gaia is believed by some sources (Joseph Fontenrose 1959 and others) to be the original deity behind the Oracle at Delphi. She passed her powers on to, depending on the source, Poseidon, Apollo or Themis. Apollo is the best-known as the oracle power behind Delphi, long established by the time of Homer, having killed Gaia’s child Python there and usurped the chthonic power. Hera punished Apollo for this by sending him to King Admetus as a shepherd for nine years.

Oaths sworn in the name of Gaia, in ancient Greece, were considered the most binding of all.

In classical art Gaia was represented in one of two ways. In Athenian vase painting she was shown as a matronly woman only half risen from the earth, often in the act of handing the baby Erichthonius (a future king of Athens) to Athena to foster (see example below).

Later in mosaic representations she appears as a woman reclining upon the earth surrounded by a host of Carpi, infant gods of the fruits of the earth (see example below under Interpretations).

[edit] Family tree

Gaia hands her newborn, Erichtonius, to Athena as Hephaestus watches - an Attic red-figure stamnos, 470–460 BC

Gaia hands her newborn, Erichtonius, to Athena as Hephaestus watches – an Attic red-figure stamnos, 470–460 BC

Gaia is the titan of Earth and these are her offspring as related in various myths. Some are related consistently, some are mentioned only in minor variants of myths, and others are related in variants that are considered to reflect a confusion of the subject or association.

[edit] Interpretations

Etymologically Gaia is a compound word of two elements. Ge, meaning “Earth“, is found in many neologisms, such as Geography (Ge/graphos = writing about Earth) and Geology (Ge/logos = words about the Earth). *Ge is a pre-Greek substrate word that some relate to the Sumerian Ki, also meaning Earth. Aia is a derivative of an Indo-European stem meaning “Grandmother”. The full etymology of Gaia would, therefore, appear to have been “Grandmother Earth” [1]. Some sources, such as anthropologists James Mellaart, Marija Gimbutas and Barbara Walker, claim that Gaia as the Mother Earth is a later form of a pre-Indo-European Great Mother who had been venerated in Neolithic times, but this point is controversial in the academic community. Belief in a nurturing Earth Mother is often a feature of modern Neopagan “Goddess” worship, which is typically linked by practitioners of this religion to the Neolithic goddess theory. For more information, see the article Goddess.

Hesiod’s separation of Rhea from Gaia was not rigorously followed, even by the Greek mythographers themselves. Modern mythographers like Karl Kerenyi or Carl A. P. Ruck and Danny Staples, as well as an earlier generation influenced by Frazer‘s The Golden Bough, interpret the goddesses Demeter the “mother,” Persephone the “daughter” and Hecate the “crone,” as understood by the Greeks, to be three aspects of a former Great Goddess, who could be identified as Rhea or as Gaia herself. Such tripartite goddesses are also a part of Celtic mythology and may stem from the Proto-Indo-Europeans. In Anatolia (modern Turkey), Rhea was known as Cybele, a goddess derived from Mesopotamian Kubau, Hurrian Kebat or Kepa. The Greeks never forgot that the Mountain Mother’s ancient home was Crete, where a figure some identified with Gaia had been worshipped as Potnia Theron (the “Mistress of the Animals”) or simply Potnia (“Mistress”), an appellation that could be applied in later Greek texts to Demeter, Artemis or Athena.

Aion and Terra Mater (Gaia) with four children, perhaps the personified seasons, mosaic from a Roman villa in Sentinum, first half of the 3rd century BC, (Munich Glyptothek, Inv. W504)

Aion and Terra Mater (Gaia) with four children, perhaps the personified seasons, mosaic from a Roman villa in Sentinum, first half of the 3rd century BC, (Munich Glyptothek, Inv. W504)

In Rome the imported Phrygian goddess Cybele was venerated as Magna Mater, the “Great Mother” or as Mater Nostri, “Our Mother” and identified with Roman Ceres, the grain goddess who was an approximate counterpart of Greek Demeter, but with differing aspects and venerated with a different cult. Her worship was brought to Rome following an Augury of the Cumaean Sibyl that Rome could not defeat Hannibal the Carthaginian until the worship of Cybele came to Rome. As a result she was a favoured divinity of Roman legionaries, and her worship spread from Roman military encampments and military colonies.

[edit] In other cultures

The idea that the fertile earth itself is female, nurturing mankind, was not limited to the Greco-Roman world. These traditions themselves were greatly influenced by earlier cultures in the Central area of the ancient Middle East. In Sumerian mythology Tiamat influenced Biblical notions of The Deeps in Genesis 1. The title “The mother of life” was later given to the Akkadian Goddess Kubau, and hence to Hurrian Hepa, emerging as Hebrew Eve (Heva) and Phygian Kubala (Cybele). In Norse mythology the Great Mother, the mother of Thor himself, was known as Jord, Hlódyn, or Fjörgyn. The Irish Celts worshipped Danu, whilst the Welsh Celts worshipped Dôn. Dana played an important part in Hindu mythology and hints of their names throughout Europe, such as the Don river, the Danube River, the Dnestr and Dnepr, suggest that they stemmed from an ancient Proto-Indo-European goddess [2]. In Lithuanian mythology Gaia – Žemė is daughter of Sun and Moon. Also she is wife of Dangus (Varuna). In Pacific cultures, the Earth Mother was known under as many names and with as many attributes as cultures who revered her for example Māori whose creation myth included Papatuanuku, partner to Ranginui – the Sky Father. In South America in the Andes a cult of the Pachamama still survives (in regions of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile). The name comes from Pacha (Quechua for change, epoch) and Mama (mother). While ancient Mexican cultures referred to Mother Earth as Tonantzin Tlalli that means “Revered Mother Earth”.

In Indian religions, the Mother of all creation is called “Gayatri“, a surprisingly close form of Gaia.

Only in Egyptian Mythology is the reverse true – Geb is the Earth Father while Nut is the Sky Mother.

Carl Gustav Jung suggested that the archetypal mother was a part of the collective unconscious of all humans, and various Jungian students, e.g. Erich Neumann and Ernst Whitmont have argued that such mother imagery underpins many mythologies, and precedes the image of the paternal “father”, in such religious systems. Such speculations help explain the universality of such mother goddess imagery around the world.

[edit] In Neopaganism

Many Neopagans actively worship Gaia. Beliefs regarding Gaia vary, ranging from the common Wiccan belief that Gaia is the Earth (or in some cases the spiritual embodiment of the earth, or the Goddess of the Earth), to the broader Neopagan belief that Gaia is the goddess of all creation, a Mother Goddess from which all other gods spring. Gaia is sometimes thought to embody the planets and the Earth, and sometimes thought to embody the entire universe. Worship of Gaia is varied, ranging from prostration to druidic ritual.

Unlike Zeus, a roving nomad god of the open sky, Gaia was manifest in enclosed spaces: the house, the courtyard, the womb, the cave. Her sacred animals are the serpent, the lunar bull, the pig, and bees. In her hand the narcotic poppy may be transmuted to a pomegranate.

Some who worship Gaia attempt to get closer to Mother Earth by becoming unconcerned with material things and more in tune with nature. Others who worship Gaia recognize Gaia as a great goddess and practice rituals commonly associated with other forms of worship. Many sects worship Gaia, even more than worship Themis, Artemis, and Hera.[citation needed] Some common forms of worship may include prostration, attempting to reach a greater connection to the earth, shamanistic practices, tithing, praising and praying, creating inspired works of art dedicated to the goddess, burning oils and incense, rearing plants and gardens, the creation and maintaining of Sacred Groves.[citation needed] Other forms of worship may indeed be common, as worship of Gaia is very broad and can take many forms.

[edit] In modern ecological theory

Main article: Gaia hypothesis

The mythological name was revived in 1969 by James Lovelock, in Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth; his Gaia hypothesis was supported by Lynn Margulis. The hypothesis proposes that living organisms and inorganic material are part of a dynamic system that shapes the Earth‘s biosphere, and maintains the Earth as a fit environment for life. In some Gaia theory approaches the Earth itself is viewed as an organism with self-regulatory functions. Further books by Lovelock and others popularized the Gaia Hypothesis, which was widely embraced and passed into common usage as part of the heightened awareness of planetary vulnerability of the 1990s.

[edit] In popular culture

The embodiment of the Earth Mother, Gaia entered popular culture following the publication of James Lovelock‘s Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth in 1979.

  • Gaia is the name ‘The Golden One’ in Ayn Rand’s novel, Anthem, takes after they leave the city.
  • Gaia was the spirit in the Captain Planet cartoon who guided the planeteers.
  • Gaia, portrayed as a giant Titan, the embodiment of earth and nature, is a major character in the video game God of War II, in which it is revealed that Gaia was the narrator of the first God of War, though she took no active role in it. She is a rock like Titan with rivers running down her bodies and what seem to be trees throughout her body. In the end of the game Kratos takes her to his time to help in his fight against the Olympians. She aides Kratos mainly due to her raising Zeus to kill Cronus but Zeus was compelled to kill all of the Titans for his father’s sins (something Kratos desires at the end of the game).
  • In the computer game ‘Age of Mythology: The Titans’ one of the Atlantean major gods is Gaia. In the last level you control Gaia to defeat Kronos.
  • In Golden Sun: The Lost Age, the Earth element is partially based around Gaia.
  • In the Foundation Books by Isaac Asimov Gaia is a lone planet in which there are humans with the power of mind control living in complete harmony with the world. They are “all” a part of Gaia and are shown saying “I am Gaia”.
  • Gaia is the spirit of the planet in the Square Inc CG movie Final Fantasy: Spirits Within
  • In the Playstation video game Final Fantasy IX, Gaia was one of the two conflicting planets that were central to the plot.
  • In Marvel, Gaia is the mother of the gods. She is also the mother of Thor.
  • In P. C. Cast’s novel Goddess of the Sea, the modern mortal, Christine Canady, invoked Gaia for help.
  • An online community site has used the name Gaia for it’s name, [Gaia Online [1]]. The name shares nothing with the Goddess, but the site’s storyline does name the world as Gaia.

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Blog Stats

    • 78,706 hits