The Great Nurturer

SANDRA LEE, NEW ZEALAND MINISTER OF CONSERVATION, 1999-2002, and a Maori, once said, in reference to the earth: “It is Mother, Papatuanuku; we shouldn’t strive to have power over her, but rather acknowledge that she is the essence which nurtures us and enables us to be”.[i]

Intrinsic to the Mother Earth Archetype and the Nature/Earth Landscape is nurturing. This is characteristic of old European and near Eastern spirituality as well as old Maori mythology, lore and proverbs. It is also true of Native American Indian spirituality and that of other primal peoples. Nurturing is a universal feeling and root metaphor inherent in the Mother Earth Archetype and the Nature/Earth Landscape. Nurturing and mothering are components of the individual personality and the collective psyche.

THE OLD MAORI SAW THE EARTH as their Mother. Papatuanuku, Mother Earth, is “someone who nurtures us and to whom we in turn owe important duties of care”.[ii] In Maori mythology the elemental gods of the natural world are children of Mother Earth and stay close to their nursing Mother.[iii] In Maori mythology it is the Earth Mother who is ultimately responsible for all the foods which sustain us – especially crops such as the kumera (sweet potato) which grow directly within her body. The seasons which relate to Papatuanuku and the growing and harvesting of her foods are found in many ancient Maori proverbs.[iv] Papatuanuku’s children live and function in a symbiotic relationship:

“From unicellular through to more complex multi-cellular organisms each species depends upon other species as well as its own, to provide the basic biological needs for existence. The different species contribute to the welfare of other species and together they help to sustain the biological functions of their primeval mother, herself a living organism. They also facilitate the processes of ingestion, digestion and waste disposal… they cover her and clothe her to protect her from the ravages of her fierce son, Tawhiri the storm-bringer. She nourishes them and they nourish her.”[v]

Nurturing by and of Papatuanuku, Mother Earth, is not just a symbiotic physical relationship, it is also a spiritual nurturing. Maori Marsden points out that Papatuanuku belongs to an older primeval order. Her sustenance derives not only from the mauri – the life force immanent in all creation which generates, regenerates and upholds creation – active within her, but is supported by other members of that order.[vi] Marsden defines the mauri as “the bonding element that knits all the diverse elements within the Universal ‘Procession’ giving creation its unity in diversity. It is the bonding element that holds the fabric of the universe together”.[vii] Mauri is a force or energy mediated by Hauora – the Breath of the Spirit of Life. “Mauri-ora was the life-force (mauri) transformed into life-principle by the infusion of life itself”.[viii] This view was not unique to the New Zealand Maori.

In old European mythology, “Mother Earth was seen to be very active. She was thought to exhale the breath of life, which nourished living organisms on her surface”.[ix]

Anthony Stevens, on the Mother Archetype, notes that:

“It is necessary to repeat that when Jungians speak of a mother archetype, they are not referring to an innate image but to an inner dynamic in the phylogenetic psyche. The ‘artefacts’ of this dynamic – its symbolic residues – are to be found in the myths and artistic creations of mankind. The ‘symbolic canon’ of the mother archetype is very extensive… However some expressions are so universally encountered that they can be mentioned here: as Mother Nature and Earth Mother she is goddess of fertility and dispenser of nourishment; as water or sea she represents the origins of all life as well as a symbol of the unconscious, the fount of all psychic creativity; as Moon Goddess she exemplifies the essential periodicity of womanhood. She also takes the form of divine animals: the bear (jealous guardian of her children), the celestial cow, who nourishes the earth with milky rain.”[x]

Jung speaks of the qualities associated with the Mother Archetype as “maternal solicitude and sympathy…all that is benign, all that cherishes and sustains, that fosters growth and fertility”.[xi] The nurturing Mother Earth Archetype, while a component of the inner psyche, also extends to the outer world and is found in symbols:

“The archetype is often associated with things and places standing for fertility and fruitfulness: the cornucopia, a ploughed field, a garden. It can be attached to a rock, a cave, a tree, a spring, a deep well, or to various vessels such as the baptismal font, or to vessel-shaped flowers like the rose or the lotus. Because of the protection it implies, the magic circle or mandala can be a form of mother archetype.”[xii]

The nurturing Mother Earth Archetype, while associated with particular cultures, is to be found in all cultures and mythologies.

Erich Neumann points out that Mother Goddess cultures and their mythologies are intrinsically connected with fertility, growth and agriculture in particular – hence with the sphere of food, the material and bodily sphere.[xiii] As the good mother:

“she is fullness and abundance; the dispenser of life and happiness; the nutrient earth, the cornucopia of the fruitful womb. She is mankind’s instinctive experience of the world’s depth and beauty, of the goodness and graciousness of Mother Nature who daily fulfills the promise of redemption and resurrection, of new life and new birth.”[xiv]

Rupert Sheldrake, biochemist, argues there “is something to be found ‘in nature’ which many of us feel we need… Nature is calm, kindly and nurturing, like an ideal wife”.[xv]

“Nature was traditionally idealized as benevolent Mother in images of the Golden Age. All was peaceful and fertile; nature gave freely of her bounty; animals grazed contentedly; birds sang pure melodies; flowers were everywhere, and trees bore fruit abundantly. Men and women lived in harmony.”[xvi]

In old Europe with the development of agriculture Mother Earth gave way to a more restricted notion of the Great Goddess of vegetation and harvesting. For example, in Greece Gaia was replaced by Demeter – but women were still closely associated with agriculture and soil fertility. Of course, metaphors connecting women with the ploughed earth and fertility exist all over the world. For example, in an ancient Hindu text it is written: “This woman is come as a living soil: sow seed in her, ye men!” and in the Koran: “your wives are to you as field”.[xvii] As Sheldrake points out, the “same metaphor is implicit in our word semen, the Latin word for seed”.[xviii] The Mother Earth Archetype invites feelings of a return to the protection of the maternal nourishing womb.

[i] Sandra Lee, ’Cherishing Papatuanuku’ – Interview with Powhiri Rika-Heke in: Nga Kaitiaki, no.21, August/September (1989), 9.

[ii] John Patterson, Exploring Maori Values ( New Zealand: Dunmore Press Ltd., 1992), 157.

[iii] Ibid, 158.

[iv] Ibid, 48.

[v] Marsden(1989) ‘The Natural World and Natural Resources: Maori Value Systems and Perspectives’, 22.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid, 20.

[viii] Ibid, 21.

[ix] Sheldrake(1990) The Rebirth of Nature, 9.

[x] Anthony Stevens, Archetype – A Natural History of the Self (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), 89.

[xi] C.G. Jung, ‘Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype’, The Collected Works, vol.9, Part 1, para.158 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1959), 82. See also C.G. Jung, Four Archetypes, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1972), 15.

[xii] Ibid, para. 156, 81.

[xiii] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness (Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XLII, 1973), 43.

[xiv] Ibid, 40.

[xv] Sheldrake (1990) The Rebirth of Nature, 9.

[xvi] Ibid, 8.

[xvii] Ibid, 13.

[xviii] Ibid, 8.

Four Imaginal-Visionary Landscapes and Historical Changes

POETS, MYSTICS, DEEP ECOLOGISTS, mythologists and religious savants have always shared and cherished the role of imagination within landscape. For children, mystics and primal peoples, the immersion of imagination in the sacred Nature/Earth Landscape can also be an existential way of being.

Paradoxically, it would seem that spiritual and imaginal-visionary landscapes are simultaneously both timeless and have undergone historical change. There is a timelessness or historical transcendence in our understanding of and our potentiality to participate in different spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes which could be called archetypal. This archetypal aspect of landscape, which is historically transcendent or centred in the individual’s psyche, will be considered in the next chapter.

At the collective level, particularly in the West, there have been discernable historical changes in spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes. The collective historical change in sacred landscape imagination has been noted by a number of geographers and cultural historians.[i]

IN THE WEST the progressive delineation of four major historical changes in imaginal-visionary landscapes is proposed, namely: from (1) the primal, sacred Nature/Earth Landscape; to (2) the Judaic-Christian Anthropocentric Landscape; to (3) the modernist ‘secular’ Technological/Materialist Landscape; then to (4) the Postmodern Ecological Landscape and a consideration of an Inner Landscape.

With the Postmodern Ecological Landscape we seem to have created a full circle return to the sacred Nature/Earth Landscape imagination and vision. However, it is a self-conscious return and it often comes with an awareness of the role of the imagination and the inner mind (or psyche/soul) in creating and choosing landscape. We can by virtue of will change the way we imagine and visualise the landscape and hence our ‘focus of perception’.

THE FOLLOWING POINTS can be made with regard to the four spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes as noted above: (1) Each of these landscapes is a major ‘focus of perception’ – hence a major focus in seeing, feeling, being and relating. These landscapes are not necessarily a totality (2) They are inherent to Western culture and history but there may be other landscapes and good arguments for other landscapes. (3) The four landscapes are not mutually exclusive.

While each of the landscapes has been predominant at particular times in Western history, at the individual level they are not mutually exclusive. An example of this is that there can be no Nature/Earth Landscape without an Anthropocentric Landscape for humans at least. This is because people are brought up as social animals and cannot survive apart from other people from birth. The Nature/Earth Landscape even for primal peoples and cultures will always be peopled and infused with an anthropocentric culture.[ii]


[i] See Lynn White Jr., ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis’, Science, 155, March (1967), no. 3767, pp. 1203-1207; Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Geopiety: A Theme in Man’s Attachment to Nature and Place’ in: David Lowenthal and Martin J. Bowden, (eds.), Geographies of the Mind: Essays in Historical Geography in Honor of John Kirkland Wright (N.Y: Oxford University Press, 1976), 13-14; Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Sacred Space: Explorations of an Idea’ in: K. Butzer (ed.), Dimensions of Human Geography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 87-100; Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred — Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality (New York/Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1988); Peter Bishop, The Myth of Shangri-La – Tibet, Travel Writing and the Western Creation of Sacred Landscape (University of California Press, 1989): William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1989).

[ii] See James G. Cowan, ‘Aboriginal Solitude’, Parabola Magazine, vol.17, no. 1 (1992), 62-67.

Postmodern Geographers and Imaginal Landscapes

THE LINK BETWEEN mind, imagination and landscape has been celebrated by some eminent geographers. As geographer historian John Kirtland Wright (1891-1969) once commented; “The most fascinating terrae incognitae of all are those that lie within the minds and hearts of men”.[i]

David Lowenthal is another geographer who has made a strong advocacy for personal and collective cultural imagination and creativity as underlying our images and ideas of the world and the earth.

“Every image and idea about the world is compounded, then, of personal experience, learning, imagination, and memory… The surface of the earth is shaped for each person by refraction through cultural and personal lenses of custom and fancy… We are all artists and landscape architects, creating order and organizing space, time, and causality in accordance with our apperceptions and predilections… The geography of the world is unified only by human logic and optics, by the light and color of artifice, by decorative arrangement, and by ideas of the good, the true, and the beautiful.”[ii]

Placing this within a temporal and historical perspective, Lowenthal emphasizes the importance of image:

“The lineaments of the world we live in are both seen and shaped in accordance, or by contrast, with images we hold of other worlds, past worlds, future worlds. We constantly compare the reality with the fancy. Indeed, without the one we could neither visualize nor conceptualize the other.”[iii]

In 1971 geographer Yi-Fu Tuan maintained a deep identity between man and world: how we think about the world is revelatory of the inner man. Thus geography “reveals man… knowledge of the world elucidates the world of man: the root meaning of “world” (wer) is in fact man: to know the world is to know oneself… Geography mirrors man”.[iv]

For geographer Denis Cosgrove “all landscapes are symbolic” and are “expressions of cultural values, a code by which collective meaning can be read”; they express in the words of geographer Donald Meinig ‘a persistent desire to make the earth over in the image of some heaven’ and they “undergo change because they are expressions of society, itself making history through time”.[v]

In 1991 geographer H.K. Yoon coined the term ‘geomentality’ which, he maintained, is “the foundation of and key to understanding geography of mind”.[vi] A geomentality can be held by an individual or a group of people about a particular environment. It is “an established and lasting frame (state) of mind regarding the environment”.[vii]

Coinciding with and stimulated by the advent of postmodernism, geographers have had a renewed revival of interest in metaphor, image and imagination in the creation of landscape. For example, D. Matless, 1992, argued that geographers exploring landscape:

“have sought to develop a form of analysis in which transcendent, ahistorical, biological or spiritual categories are explored to investigate human responses to landscape. Cosgrove in particular phrases this approach in postmodern terms, and in doing so raises key issues regarding the status of image and metaphor…Whether or not they conceive of their endeavor as ‘postmodern’… there would appear to be a search underway for an elevated, transcendent base.”[viii]

Denis Cosgrove, 1990, pronouncing the status of image and metaphor and depicting his approach to geography and landscape in postmodern terms, puts the case as follows:

“My argument is that both in the later sixteenth century – immediately preceding the Scientific Revolution, and in the closing decades of the twentieth century – following the scientific and intellectual contributions of relativity and psychoanalysis, there have been serious attempts to collapse Modernist distinctions between spirit and matter, humans and nature, subject and object, poesis and techne. In both cases understanding is constituted neither in solely operational, nor entirely speculative terms, but rather through the construction of metaphor and image by individuals actively embracing the materiality of the world, recognizing the necessity of mechanical intervention in transforming nature, but refusing to be ruled by the materialist and mechanical vision of Modernism. Metaphor and image are conceived not as surface representations of a deeper truth but as a creative intervention in making truth.”[ix]

For Cosgrove people “seek to create meaning and do so through metaphor” and that rather than being grasped by empirical observation or measurement this meaning is “apprehended phenomenologically, below the intellectual level of formal science”.[x]Further, meaning is “increasingly constructed through images”.[xi] Postmodernism has promoted in some respects an “evocative sense of metaphor as that which lies between fact and idea. The metaphor may thus picture or represent an understanding which must otherwise remain unarticulated.”[xii] In the words of K. Harries: “What metaphor names may transcend human understanding so that our language cannot capture it”.[xiii]

Radically for a geography which has traditionally been entrenched in scientific empiricism, Cosgrove argues that “Scientific discourse has always been metaphorical in the Aristotelian sense, but has proclaimed a privileged ‘truth’ for its metaphors or models in representing reality”. However, with the shift from metaphors of science to those of the arts and the “rejection of foundationalism in post-modern writings” there is an implied “relativity in which the competing claims of different representations can not be evaluated”.[xiv] If pure perspectivalism is accepted it “opens the door, at least in thought, to transcendence of its own limits, to metaphysics and thus to the collapse of clear distinctions between science and poetics”.[xv] Cosgrove concludes:

“We need to locate the history of our discipline within a broader historiography of constant metaphorical and imaginative reconstruction of nature and our place within it, not seeking ultimate foundations for spatial and environmental metaphors and images but rather respecting them as ‘more or less adequate and fragmentary repetition of that speech which nature, or perhaps God, addresses us.”[xvi]

In the postmodern camp and tracking a new way forward, Peter Bishop explores links between landscape geography, archetypal psychology and postmodern epistemological ways of knowledge and meaning. Bishop maintains that the attitude towards rhetoric, metaphor and imagery is central to the definition of postmodernism and postmodern scholarship – “that questions about the relationship between archetypal psychology and geography mirrors the wider postmodern phenomenon of comparative knowledges”.[xvii]

THE EMPHASIS ON METAPHOR, symbolism, transcendence and imagistic reconstruction are characteristic of both postmodernism and an archetypal analysis. As we have seen, the role of the imagination in the creation of landscape is of increasing interest to geographers. However it is in the consideration of spiritual landscapes and sacred places that landscape as a manifestation of personal and collective imagination becomes most apparent. And so we now turn to a consideration of historical changes in spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes.

[i] John Kirtland Wright, ‘Terrae Incognitae: The Place of the Imagination in Geography’, Annals, Association of American Geographers, vol.37 (1947), 15.

[ii] David Lowenthal, ‘Geography, Experience, and Imagination: Towards a Geographical Epistemology’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v. 51, no.3, September (1961), 260.

[iii] David Lowenthal and Martyn J. Bowden (eds.), Geographies of the Mind – Essays in Historical Geosophy (Oxford University Press, 1975), 3.

[iv] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Geography, Phenomenology, and the Study of Human Nature’, Canadian Geographer, v.15 (1971), 181.

[v] See Denis Cosgrove, Social and Symbolic Landscape (Croom Helm, London & Sydney, 1984), 35. See also Donald Meinig (ed.), The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes (Oxford University Press, 1979) 6. Note: Both refer to the seminal importance of the writings of J.B. Jackson and to his journal Landscape.

[vi] Hong-Key Yoon, ‘On Geomentality’, Geo Journal, v.25, no.4 (1991), 392.

[vii] Ibid, 387.

[viii] D. Matless, ‘An Occasion for Geography: Landscape, Representation, and Foucault’s Corpus’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, v.10 (1992), 44-45.

[ix] Denis Cosgrove, ‘Environmental Thought and Action: Pre-modern and Post-modern’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, v.15 (1990), 345.

[x] Ibid, 352.

[xi] Ibid, 353.

[xii] Ibid, 345.

[xiii] K. Harries, ‘Metaphor and Transcendence’ in: S. Sacks (ed.), On Metaphor (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1978), 72.

[xiv] Cosgrove(1990) ‘Environmental Thought and Action’, 345.

[xv] Ibid, 345.

[xvi] Ibid, 357.

[xvii] Peter Bishop, ‘Rhetoric, Memory and Power: Depth Psychology and Postmodern Geography’, Environmental and Planning D: Society and Space, v.10 (1992), 5.

Papatuanuku and the Gaia Hypothesis – Maori Mythology Meets Science

FOR THE OLD NEW ZEALAND MAORI, Papatuanuku was a personification of the Earth. Like the Greek ‘Ge’ or ‘Gaia’, Papatuanuku is Mother Earth, the archetype.

Tohunga and theologian, Maori Marsden (1924-1993) argues that

“Papatuanuku – ‘Land from beyond the veil’, or originating from the realm beyond the world of sense-perception, was the personified form of ‘whenua’ – the natural earth”.[i]

Papatuanuku is an organic Mother, like the Earth Mother of Old Europe.[ii]

“Papatuanuku is our Mother and deserves our love and respect. She is a living organism with her own biological systems and functions creating and supplying a web of support systems for all her children whether man, animal, bird, tree or grass”.[iii]

Papatuanuku, Mother Earth, understood as a living organism and revered by the Maori of antiquity, strikingly resembles James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis – the recent scientifically based and described Gaia, also regarded as a living organism.

Up until seventeenth century Europe the root metaphor binding self, society and the cosmos was that of organism and the idea of nature as a living organism and a nurturing Mother. This had philosophical antecedents in ancient systems of thought. Indeed, “Central to the organic theory was the identification of nature, especially the earth, with a nurturing mother: a kindly beneficient female who provided for the needs of mankind in an ordered, planned universe”.[iv]

For the Roman Stoics from the third century BCE to the first century CE, the world was an intelligent organism and God and Mother were synonymous.

In a theory which is strikingly similar to Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis – which showed that the Earth, its rocks, oceans, and atmosphere, and all living things are part of one great organism evolving over the vast span of geological time – the Roman Stoic, Lucias Seneca (4B CE – 65 CE) argued that the earth’s breath nourished both plant life and the heavens.[v] Analogies were drawn between the human body and the body of Mother Earth.[vi]

For old primal religions, the Mother Earth Archetype remains the supreme underlying holistic force within their landscape. Harold Turner argues that there is “a profound sense in many primal societies that man is akin to nature, a child of Mother Earth and brother to the plants and animals which have their own spiritual existence and place in the universe”.[vii]

That the Earth is a living, conscious being that must be treated with respect and loving care, is also a very central belief to Native American cultures where the “Earth may be referred to as Mother, or Grandmother, and these are quite literal terms, for the Earth is the source, the mother of all living beings, including human beings”.[viii]

Black Elk, a Lakota, asked: “Is not the sky a father and the earth a mother and are not all living things with feet and wings or roots their children?”[ix] Black Elk spoke resentfully of white pressures on the Sioux to sell their land: “only crazy or very foolish men would sell their Mother Earth”.[x]

By the 1960s the Native American had became a symbol in the ecology movement’s search for alternatives to Western exploitative attitudes:

“The Indian animistic belief-system and reverence for the earth as mother were contrasted with the Judeo-Christian heritage of dominion over nature with capitalistic practices resulting in the “tragedy of the commons” (exploitation of resources available for any person’s or nation’s use)”.[xi]

The relevance of the Mother Earth Archetype today can be seen in the modern ecology movement, Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, and the ecofeminist movement which has reasserted the association between women and nature.

David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson argue that modern ecology is a continuation of the age old human quest for a deeper understanding of the relationships which mysteriously and invisibly connect living things to each other and the earth: “Today’s infant science of nature’s patterns and relations has scarcely begun to unveil the tangles of bonds that exist between the species, forces, and materials of the natural world”.[xii] However, what is being increasingly revealed is a central biological truth, that the “earth’s fragile, enveloping film of life and life-supporting air, water, and soil is a single ecological whole or biosphere”.[xiii]

Biochemist Rupert Sheldrake concludes that despite the fact that in the last few centuries an educated minority in the West has believed the scientific mechanistic myth that the Earth is dead, throughout history practically all humanity has believed it to be alive.[xiv] While most scientists use the vernacular of their profession and tend to view the earth’s “exquisite self-regulating tendencies as merely a manifestation of the system’s many machinelike feedback mechanisms, referred to collectively as homeostasis”[xv] other scientists have viewed it increasingly in a more poetic light.

Former NASA scientist and formulator of the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock, openly expresses his awe and reverence in like fashion to Native elders the world over, who continue to address the same earth – or any of the transcendent or spiritual dimensions they perceive with it – with undisguised love, respect and awe. For many primal peoples the earth is their living, nurturing, reciprocally affectionate Mother Earth. Lovelock has christened this “wonderous lifelike biosphere system Gaia, this total planetary being, in honour of the earth goddess of Greek myth”:[xvi]

“The idea that the Earth is alive is at the outer bounds of scientific credibility. I started to think and then write about it in my early fifties… My contemporary and fellow villager, the novelist William Golding, suggested that anything alive deserves a name – what better for a living Planet than Gaia, the name the Greeks used for the Earth Goddess?”[xvii]

Ecofeminism is a driving spiritual and philosophical force behind the ideology of the ecology movement. Indeed, Carolyn Merchant argues that “Women and nature have an age-old association – an affiliation that has persisted throughout culture, language, and history”:[xviii]

“The ancient identity of nature as a nurturing mother links women’s history with the history of the environment and ecological change. The female earth was central to the organic cosmology that was undermined by the Scientific Revolution and the rise of a market-orientated Europe. The ecology movement has reawakened interest in the values and concepts associated historically with the premodern organic world.”[xix]

Mother Earth is a timeless archetype which continues to move modern technologically sophisticated man , albeit unexpectedly.

The Bulgarian cosmonaut Aleksandr Aleksandrov, awed by the vision of Earth from the perspective of outer space, described his feelings this way:

“And then it struck me that we are all children of our Earth. It does not matter what country you look at. We are all Earth’s children, and we should treat her as our Mother”.[xx]

[i] Maori Marsden, ‘The Natural World and Natural Resources: Maori Value Systems and Perspectives’, in: Resource Management Law Reform Core Group Working Paper, Part A, No.29, (Wellington: Ministry for the Environment, July 1989), 21.

[ii] See D.R. Simmons, Iconography of New Zealand Maori Religion (Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1986); Elsdon Best, Maori Religion and Mythology, Part 1 (New Zealand: Dominion Museum Bulletin 10.\ (1924): 33); R. Taylor, Te Ika a Maui. New Zealand and its Inhabitants (London: Wertheim & McIntosh, 1855).

[iii] Marsden (1989) ‘The Natural World and Natural Resources ‘, 22.

[iv] Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature – Woman, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980), 2.

[v] Ibid, 23-24.

[vi] Ibid, 25-26.

[vii] Harold Turner, ‘The Primal Religions of the World and their Study’, in: Victor Hayes (ed.), Australian Essays in World Religions (The Australian Assn. for the Study of Religions, 1977), 30.

[viii] Annie L. Booth and Harvey M. Jacobs, ‘Ties that Bind: Native American Beliefs as a Foundation for Environmental Consciousness’, Environmental Ethics, vol. 12, no.1 (1990), 32.

[ix] John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux (New York: Pocket Books, 1975), 6.

[x] Ibid, 113.

[xi] Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature, 28.

[xii] David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson, Wisdom of the Elders – Honoring Sacred Native Visions of Nature (New York: Bantam Books, 1992), 53.

[xiii] Ibid, 53.

[xiv] Sheldrake(1990) The Rebirth of Nature, 123.

[xv] Ibid, 55.

[xvi] Ibid, 56.

[xvii] James Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia – A Biography Of Our Living Earth (Oxford University Press, 1989), 3.

[xviii] Merchant, ibid, xv.

[xix] Ibid, xvi.

[xx] K.W. Kelly,(ed.), The Home Planet (Reading, Mass.: Addison- Wesley, 1988), 109.

Mother Earth

“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.

[iii] Ibid.