Most of us these days know the name Gaia from James Lovelock’s theory of the same name. Later I will be talking about modern interpretations and thoughts about the earth. For now let us focus on Gaia in her ancient form.
There are ancient tales of Gaia Eurusternos, which means the broad-chested earth. She was rarely worshiped alone and when she was worshiped it was usually with Demeter. There were no great temples or festivals dedicated to her. Nevertheless, She is the primordial grandmamma of the classical Greek Gods. She’s like one of those amazing great-grandmothers who had 13 children in a one-room house and raised them all to be doctors and lawyers. Except her kids ran the cosmos until their kids kicked their asses and shoved them into the darkest underworld known as Tartarus. It’s a thing. Sometimes I think the Greek deities have a bit of a gangster feel.
First, out of her own self she bore Ouranos, also known as Uranus, who is the sky. Next she gives birth to Pontus, the sea, and then to ourea, the hills.
This is significant. We know that the Indo-Europeans, from which the Greeks descended, saw the world divided into threes. One of their favorite threes was Land, Sky, and Sea. We see this over and over again in the cosmologies of all the various cultures that emerged from that group. So what we are saying, is that all by herself, Gaia gives birth to everything that is. She is truly an all-mother, from within a classically IE symbolism. This is significant because some people question whether or not the Earth Mother is an essentially IE goddess. We see clearly in this example that she is.
So after she creates the world all by herself, then she gets it on with her son, Ouranos and they have a bunch of children:
Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne, gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos.
Then by her son Pontus, Gaia bore the sea-deities Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto, and Eurybia.
I told you she had a lot of kids.
She also gave birth to the Cyclopes and the Hekatonkheires. Those are the one eyed giants and the one hundred handed giants that you will no doubt be familiar with from Percy Jackson. Unlike the stories told in Percy Jackson, she doesn’t seem to be the enemy of anyone, except maybe her son/husband who stuffs their children back into the womb of Gaia by hiding them underground and causing her great pain. She is the one who tells Cronos how to set them free, by killing his own father. Myths are violent, aren’t they? She gives Time himself a sickle and he cuts off Sky Father’s genitals. From the blood various deities are born, including Aphrodite, making her the oldest Olympian. So, basically Gaia was forced to choose to protect her kids and betray her husband … who was also her kid, but incest is also a thing with Gods.
So, where does that leave us then, as modern pagans? Death and dismemberment is pretty harsh. The thing is, in many ways the story of the Greek gods is a story of generations. The first generation is the most violent. Sometimes I imagine this story as the story of the angry sky and boiling seas of the beginning of our Earth. I imagine her giving birth to the very beginnings of life, the bacteria and the single celled protozoa. We live in a gentle earth, covered and protected by the atmosphere, fed by countless millennia of stone worn down into soil and sun translated by seed into stem and leaf. The earth and sky have not always been gentle or kind. I live in gratitude for this place we have. Maybe someday there will be humans on other planets and we will have to learn their names and pour offerings to them. But for now, she’s what we’ve got.
And, thusly ends the story of Gaia.