“Mother Earth is as universal a symbol as our race possesses, at home even in those societies that have moved on to more civilized ways.”
– Theodore Roszak
Our Global Eternal Mother
IN OLD EUROPEAN-BASED SOCIETIES the Mother Earth Archetype was found in pre-Hellenic Greece, influenced by Crete, ancient Anatolia and the Near East. She was part of the Celtic tradition which extended in a broad sweep from Northern Ireland to Central Europe; Northern Italy and as far east as Central Anatolia, the Galaticia highlands of Turkey; and south to the Iberian Peninsula – Spain , northwest Galicia, and Portugal. Mother Earth worship persisted up to 500 CE in Europe and persists today in primal indigenous peoples who choose to remain in their own traditions:
“[T]he Primal Ancestress, the Old One or mother figure of the Paleolithic Age (25,000–15,000 BCE) which by the Neolithic Age (8,000–3,000 BCE) became identified as Mother Earth, the creative power of the universe. Being born of Mother Earth, everything that existed was perceived as partaking of her spirit and there developed a relationship of kinship between human beings and all of creation – vegetation, animals, the elements, and other plants. This holistic approach to life is thought to have originated in Mesopotamia spreading throughout the Near and Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia. The creation stories of Native Americans throughout the continent make it clear that this relationship was universal.”[i]
Recently feminists, ecologists and postmodern Neopagans have also taken up Earth worship. The Mother Earth image is again in fashion; but the roots of archetypes are always deeper than fashion – indeed the“very words for nature in European languages are feminine”. For example:
“phusis in Greek, natura in Latin, la nature in French, die Natur in German. The Latin word natura literally meant ‘birth’. The Greek word phusis came from the root phu – whose primary meaning was also connected with birth. Thus our words ‘physics’ and ‘physical’, like ‘nature’ and ‘natural’, have their origins in the mothering process.”[ii]
In the mythologies of antiquity Mother Earth was an aspect of the Great Mother Goddess. The Great Mother was frequently the source of the universe, its laws, the ruler of fate, time, eternity, truth, wisdom, justice, love, birth and death:
“She was Mother Earth, Gaia, and also the goddess of the heavens, the mother of the sun, the moon and of all heavenly bodies – like Nut, the Egyptian sky-goddess; or Astarte, the goddess of heaven, queen of the stars. She was Natura, the goddess of Nature. She was the world soul of Platonic cosmology; and she had many other names and images as the mother and matrix and sustaining force of all things.”[iii]
[i] Andree Collard and Joyce Contrucci, Rape of the Wild – Man’s Violence Against Animals and the Earth (Indiana University Press, 1989), 8.
[ii] Rupert Sheldrake, The Rebirth of Nature – The Greening of Science and God (London: Random Century, 1990), 4.