Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Artemis. The Olympian goddesses, all unique, all clearly defined. All come from ultimately from Gaia, the primordial earth goddess and today, in honor of her, I ask the question, as I have of Zeus and Hades previously: Who is Gaia anyway?
The “mother of the beginning, the mother of infancy” (Downing, Gods in our Midst 135), Gaia is mother to us all, “she is the mother whom we come to know only as we begin to long for a mother from whom we are not separated, as in time, in consciousness, we find ourselves to be separated from the mother of the present” (135). Sometimes, particularly when I am out in the woods, there is a part of me that wishes I could just stop, stop and degrade like the leaves on the ground piling up year after year, molding over, breaking down and returning. Gaia is that source to which they return, the ground from which all emerges.As an archetype, Gaia resides within all our imaginations (as do all gods) and honoring Gaia is to give witness to this longing.
The Homeric hymns says this of the “mother before the father” (139):
the oldest of all,
splendid as a rock
whatever their is that is of the land
it is she
who nourishes it
it is the Earth
that I sing (qtd in Downing 139)
Gaia is earth recognized as alive and divine and reminds us the “divine is transhuman and prehuman” (140) and, as to the answer for that longing described above, she is the answer. She is the source of the urge to come home which no literal mother can satisfy. Hestia too is a goddess of the home, but the two differ in that Hestia’s space is the domestic home, the literal home where I am raised and where I raise my children. Gaia’s home, of course, transcends any particular home, and if Hestia is the centering force by which I feel home at home, Gaia is the centering force which makes me “feel at home in the universe” (145).
Reminding us of “all that cannot be brought under control” (146), the ancient Greeks honored Gaia and her generative essence. Gaia, the source of all, brings forth–she brings forth other than herself–the birds, the bugs, the gods, you and me, the squirrels, the trees, on an on an one. She produces multiplicity, difference.
The ancient Greeks honored this mother through animal and grain sacrifice.
We take. We take in massive portions, like ravenous giants.
What do we give back?
I am my Mother’s greedy, selfish little child. And my needs come first. So feed me Mother, now. Then I will throw up all over you.
We pollute, from polluere “to defile”. We defile that which feeds, clothes, houses us and provides us with everything.
Why, why do we treat her that way? My answer to that relates to our philosophical materialism–that the earth is simply matter, material for me to use. Nothing more, nothing less. With such a philosophical basis, the earth is just the earth, no longer Gaia, no longer living, breathing.
So in honor of Earth Day, let us honor Gaia.
Let us honor Gaia by celebrating difference, multiplicity and let us honor Gaia by “being birth-givers” and “make every drop of semen or blood that fall on us something vital” (155).
To end, I again return to Homer:
Mother of the gods
bride of the sky in stars
but if you liked what I sang here
Give me this life too
then in my other poems
I will remember you