Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Gaia: The Ancient Earth Mother
In celebration of this 45th Earth Day, I would like to acknowledge the ancient Greek Goddess of the Earth, Gaia.
The Greeks saw her this way:
The Mother of us all
the oldest of all
splendid as rock
Whatever there is that is of
it is she
who nourishes it,
It is the Earth
that I sing.
Hesiod's Theogony is an ancient story about the creation of the world by the Greek Earth Mother, Gaia. First there was Chaos, and then appeared "broad-bosomed" Earth, who bore, first of all and as her equal, the starry Sky, Ouranos. Then She bore the great mountains, valleys, plains and the Sea, and after that She mated with Ouranos and bore many children, among whom were the Titans and Titanesses, the ancestors of the Olympian divinities, who represented the 'titanic' forces of the earth. Yet, although Ouranos came every night to mate with his wife, Gaia, from the very beginning he hated the children whom Gaia bore him. As soon as they were born, he hid them and would not let them come out into the light. He hid them in the inward hollows of the Earth, and it is said that he took pleasure in this wicked deed.
The goddess Gaia groaned under this affliction, and felt herself oppressed by her inner burden. Therefore she devised a stratagem. She brought forth gray iron and made a mighty sickle with sharp teeth. Then she took counsel with her sons and daughters, asking who would avenge her for this wicked deed. Only Kronos (Saturn) took courage and agreed to act on her behalf. So Gaia rejoiced, and hid Kronos in the place appointed for the ambush, giving him the sickle and telling him her plan. And when Ouranos came at nightfall, inflamed with love and covering all the Earth, his son thrust out his left hand and seized his father. With his right hand he took the huge sickle, quickly cutting off his father's manhood, and cast it behind his back into the sea.
Gaia received in her womb the blood shed by her spouse, and gave birth to the Erinyes - the strong ones - and to other creatures. The father's genitals fell into the sea, and it mixed with the foam and gave birth to Aphrodite. Since that time, the sky has no longer approached the earth for nightly mating.
As with any story, let this one work on your heart and your imagination. The world is recreated in each moment. That’s amazing. So it stands to reason that we too go through times when our whole world is created anew. That’s when Gaia can be our guide. This is a perfect time to understand how creation works, because with the strong astrological aspects going on for the past few years, we are ready for a new story. We are all in the process of creating a new life for ourselves.
So with Gaia’s help, let’s look at what she has to teach us about the process of creation. Just as the Earth gives birth to the whole world, our experience of the Earth and our personal relationship with nature gives birth to our own world-view. Gaia’s myth says that first there is chaos, or nothingness, and then there is Earth, or form. This implies that within chaos there are inherent forms. Each moment of chaos has shapes within it.
Admittedly, it is very hard for most of us to imagine living within the chaos, for we are troubled by any confusion in our lives. But this image also warns us that there is a need to allow some chaos, for there is always the danger that we will try to get rid of the confusion too quickly, thereby losing whatever new forms are about to emerge from it. The very nature of creativity entails chaos and times of daydreaming, as any artist will tell you. Joseph Campbell said that "Until you are willing to be confused about what you already know, what you know will never grow bigger, better, or more useful."
There are fallow periods in our lives and in our days when nothing much seems to happen. (Oh, how hard that is on our masculine, left-brain consciousness!) What do we do with the fact that the very nature of our being is chaotic? We create ourselves and our reality each moment! Those moments do contain the chaos of imminent creation, because each moment asks us to make choices out of our free will.
Ouranos, Gaia’s lover and father of her children, symbolizes the Divine Plan before manifestation, the cosmic laws that order the Universe, the urge for perfection, the ideal vision of life. It’s very hard for the Ideal to manifest in all its perfection. Therefore, like Ouranos, that first masculine consciousness who takes pleasure in the feminine but rejects the fruits of their union, we may too quickly impose a form, an agenda on our chaos; the 'shoulds' and 'oughts' of our lives are imposed too readily onto our inner and outer chaos and children. Perhaps this myth explains why our modern masculine consciousness has such a hard time giving over power to feminine consciousness: the masculine likes order and control and loses itself too readily in the chaotic processes of creation, which is the work of right-brain feminine consciousness.
There is always a tension and antagonism between the creative idea and its manifestation. Overwhelmed by the power of our ideal vision, our own creativity (which is of the Earth) rebels and might retaliate – because of time constraints, day to day pressures or just plain giving up under the pressure (Saturn/Kronos as worldly authority and time and constriction) – by cutting off the source of inspiration, our creative imagination.
There is also the new life that grows spontaneously from within our inner chaos. This is the mystery of continuous creation we need to open ourselves to. This is the mystery of Spring, of new life that comes out of seeming death. Our directed, goal-oriented, reasonable ego-consciousness hates mystery, and is afraid of the creativity of feminine consciousness because it is wild and passionate, unpredictable and chaotic, and often demands the death of old, worn-out ego ideals before it can create something new. Perhaps this is why Ouranos feared to let his children out, for then he would have had to change and adapt, and not live in absolutes. We all need to face our fears as well as our creativity and our desires. Can we let the forms and the images that are inherent within us come into the light of day? Can we allow them a place in our lives so we can be co-creators of our lives? There is so much potential within each one of us if we can only allow it to gestate in the chaos.
To begin to do this, let’s re-learn how to mother ourselves, which is essentially to give birth to ourselves. If we can accept the instinct to mother as a grounding and nurturing instinct, we need to also accept that sometimes the instinct will be to jump into the dark abyss of Chaos. If we can do this, we might discover a more fulfilling and creative way to live life.
Here is a dream of the Goddess as Mother, a dream that asks the dreamer to accept deep love and mothering from her inner dark Goddess. When she accepts this nurturing, she is restored. She is a beautiful woman and the whole universe is hers!
I am an infant, lying alone in the grass. A great Being picks me up. She is huge and black skinned. She has a beautiful face and large soft breasts. She has the kindest smile I have ever seen. She holds me and sits down on the great stone steps of an alabaster temple. She nurses me with the milk of human kindness. I grow into a woman. We are dressed in the most beautiful garments. I have on a rose madder color robe and she has on an ultramarine robe with small silver stars on it. It is the entire universe.
The Great Goddess Gaia will nurture us if we honor her every day. This is the most important thing we can do this Earth Day.
Most ancient cultures that lived close to the Earth - the Celts, the Aborigines, the Native Americans, and Western culture itself until the sixteenth century - revered Earth as the Mother. They knew they were made from the dust of this Earth, that they shared this Earth with the other animals, the trees, the rivers and seas. They knew that they were part of the Great Round of Nature, one with all the other works of the Mother. They knew that just as the animals gave up their lives to feed and nourish human beings, so too, human beings gave back their lives to the Great Mother when death took us. They understood the wisdom and necessity of the cyclic processes of Her mysteries, and they lived within that cycle of gestation, birth, death and regeneration as in the protective circle of a mother's arms. For them, the Earth was animate and divine; She set the rhythms of life for all Her children. She was the Divine Nourisher and Sustainer, giving humans beautiful children and plentiful harvests; She was also the Divine Destroyer, taking back Her own. She was, and is, the bedrock and foundation of all that draw their life from Her.
We modern people need to honor our Mother Earth. We need to consciously live in tune with her cycles and in connection with all her children. We need to come back into resonance with her pulse. And then we will be willing to listen to her wisdom.
The Native Americans treasured the wisdom of the Earth. Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota (Sioux) medicine man, wrote:
The Lakota was a true Naturist - a Lover of Nature. He loved the earth and all things of the earth, the attachment growing with age. The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. Their tipis were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth. The birds that flew in the air came to rest upon the earth and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew. The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing and healing.
That is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life-giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly; he can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him. . . .
Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky and water was a real and active principle. For the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them and so close did some of the Lakotas come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.
The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man's heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. So he kept his youth close to its softening influence.