Known as both Gaia and Gaea, the Goddess Gaia is a figure from Greek mythology. Her name essentially means earth or land and shows that she was the human version of the earth. Some refer to her as the ancestral mother and claim that she gave birth to all of the elements of the world. Gaia birthed Uranus, also known as Ouranos and the Titans as well as other major figures such as the Gigantes and Cyclopes. Terra is the Roman version of the goddess.
In the creation myth, CHAOS came before everything else. He was made of Void, Mass and Darkness in confusion; and then earth in the form of Gaea came into existence. From “Mother Earth” sprang the starry heavens, in the shape of the sky God Uranus, and from Gaea also came the mountains, plains, seas and rivers that make up the Earth we know today.
Meaning of Her Name – Gaia/Gaea
Though some Greek gods and goddesses have names that scholars later established, Gaia’s name dates back to before Greek civilization. Her name in other languages includes Doric and Attic, but all of the names mean earth. Mycenean Greeks called her Ma-Ka or Ma-Go, both of which mean Mother Gaia.
The Titans and Earth
Gaia was the first of the immortals. She arose during the chaos period. Greeks refer to this period as the time before gods and goddesses. Christians use the same term to describe the world before God separated heaven and earth. She would become the eternal seat on Mount Olympus where all Olympians sat. Many refer to those men and women as the 12 Olympians. During the early years, many called her Mother Earth.
As soon as she arose, she took possession of Mount Olympus and began overseeing the world. Tartarus was the next immortal and known for helping pave the earth, followed by Eros who was the god of love. After spending many years as the only creature, she became so lonely that she created Uranus. To make him happy, she gave him control over the sky and heaven. She believed that he would help and protect her. Gaia then created both Pontus to oversee the ocean and Ourea to take over the mountains. These two beings were unique in that she created them alone and without the assistance of a father/male.
The creation of the Titans was equally as interesting. One night, the goddess and her son lay together. This resulted in the birth of Cronus, who was the original Titan. While her other children loved and respected their mother, Cronus was different. He thought his mother was lusty and sinful. Knowing the truth behind his birth, he was often awful to her and acted out.
As one of the more prolific goddesses in Greek mythology, Gaia had multiple children. Their births helped her become known as Mother Goddess. She and Uranus laid together a second time and sired Cyclopes. They also had Brontes and Steropes, who became known as Thunder and Lighting along with Arges known as Bright. Hecatochires, Gyges, Cottus and Briareos were other children the mother and son had together. Legend says that all three had 50 heads and 100 arms. Worried about their creation, Uranus tucked them away and hid his children from the world.
Gaia was unhappy but didn’t know to take control of the situation until she came up with a new plan. She used a piece of gray flint to create a sickle and convinced her other children to help with her plan. Uranus returned to his mother with amorous plans. He instead found Cronus who grabbed the sickle and cut off his father’s testicles. Even as his blood ran, Gaia used him to father more children. Sh bore both the Meliae who were tree nymphs and the Giants as well as Erinyes. Many know this group as the furies. As his blood rushed into the sea, Aphrodite sprung forward.
After laying with her son Pontus, the goddess of the earth had several more children. These children include Eurybia, Nereus and Ceto as well as Thaumas and Phorcys. All of her children with this son are sea deities. This led to her connection to both the water and earth. She also had Triptolemos wit her son Oceanus.
Cronus later became obsessed with a warning He received from both Uranus and Gaia.
They told him that he would have success in life but that one of his children would gain control over him. When he lay with Rhea who was his sister, he was so worried about what might happen that he swallowed their children immediately after she birthed them. Rhea wanted to have children. After becoming pregnant again, she went to her parents for help. They helped her protect the child and created a stone that they wrapped in cloth. Cronus thought this was his child, which gave Rhea time to escape with their actual child. This baby was Zeus.
Years later, Zeus went to war with the Titans. Though his mother was a Titan and Gaia was the mother of the Titans, she agreed to help him. Zeus won in his battle and brought an end to the group who wanted to defeat him. Though she helped him, the earth mother and Tartarus had a son Typhon. Not only was Typhon her last so, but he would later go up against Zeus.
Night and Day
Hyginus claimed that Gaia had a child with Sea and Heaven, which resulted in the births of Aether and Hemera. These two children later became known as night and Day. Another early biography of the goddess claims that she and Tartarus were the parents of Echidna. Echidna was a monster who was part snake and part human. She spent much of her life living in a hidden cave and birthed some of the more popular monsters in
Though some legends claim she was the mother of Tityos, she was his grandmother. While married to Hera, Zeus took many lovers. Knowing how jealous she was, he took his favorite and hid her underground. The woman, Elara, eventually had his son who was a giant. As Gaia gave birth to the giants and protected Elara, some mistakenly believe she was the mother of this child.
Gaea – Appearance
Gaia often appeared in different ways in early artwork. One of the oldest vase paintings from Athens depicts her as an older woman with half of her body still in the ground and a matronly figure. Other vases show her in a similar position with Erichthonius in her hands. This scene shows her giving the future king of the city to Athena who raised him. Other paintings show her as a more beautiful and younger woman relaxing on the ground with small gods nearby.
Gaea – Epithets and Cults
The most common epithet associated with Gaia is Anesidora, which is also one of the oldest names given to her. It means giver of gifts and shows that she gave to those in need. Others referred to her as Pandoros, Eurusternos and Calligenaia. In most stories, people followed both her and Demeter and worshiped them equally. Some legends claim that her followers sacrificed black animals in honor of her. They would bring a white animal for the Sun and a black animal for the Earth.
As one of the more popular Greek goddesses, many people worshiped Gaia and built temples in her honor. One legend claims that she was the creator of Delphi. It says that while clad as a tree, she stood in the center of town and spoke to a stone, which came to life. Before breathing life into the stone, Gaia was the original oracle. When she grew tired of the position, she appointed a nymph by the name of Daphnis to take over. A different legend claims that both Gaia and Poseidon shared the oracle. While she allowed the oracle the freedom to speak, Poseidon only allowed his to say what he wanted him to say. Her share of the oracle would later go to Apollo who eventually gave it back to Poseidon.
There were other temples dedicated to her honor outside of Delphi. When Homer began writing Greek mythology, he noted that Apollo was in control of Delphi. He gained control after murdering Python, who was the goddess’s son. Hera was so unhappy at what he did that she banished him. Apollo worked as a shepherd for nine years before she allowed him to return.
Pausanias mentioned in his early books that there were three temples for Gaia worshippers. One was Gaion, which was a short ride from Krathis. He claimed this was the oldest of her temples and held many wooden images of her. This temple allowed women to apply for priestesses’ roles. They had to drink bull’s blood and then answer a series of questions honestly. When multiple women wanted the position, they competed in a series of challenges. The temple was unique because it allowed female priestesses who previously had relations with men as long as they were never with more than one man at a time.
Another temple designed for Gaia was in Sparta in an area known as Ge Gasepton. It was also a sanctuary of Nurse of the Young and not far from Athens. Like other temples of the time period, it had multiple altars where people could pray and worship her. Priestesses marked other areas as sacred spots designed for other gods and goddesses. Eileithyia had a sanctuary in Tegea that had an altar dedicated to her. There were similar altars in both Delphi and Olympia.
The connection she shared with Demeter is clear in the statues found in his temple. One of those is in Achaia and is known as the Temple of Demeter. His followers chose the location because it was in a quiet grove not far away from the ocean. When the weather was nice, followers could take long walks and enjoy their time outside. The area had both a temple to Aphrodite and one to Apollo. The Temple of Demeter has a statue of Demeter and Persephone along with one of Gaia. There is also a painting of her on display that shows her in a seated position.
As the mother of Zeus, it’s not surprising that some of his temples also pay homage to her. One of those is the Zeus Olympios in Athens near Kronos. It has a bronze sculpture of the god along with multiple antiques and artifacts. Inside is a portion of the floor with an open section in the middle. It originally had water that came down from the mountains. Visitors would mix honey and wheat into the water to pay their respects once a year. Deukalion built the sanctuary in honor of Zeus and added the water feature for Gaia, but it’s unknown when they did so.
Athens had another statue of the goddess that disappeared years ago. It showed Gaia standing on the Acropolis with a distraught look on her face as she begged Zeus to make it rain. The Areopagus court in Athens also had a statue of her, which was close to those of Hermes and Plouton. Near the statues was a sign that named each one.
There are many modern interpretations about Goddess Gaia that are different than those from the early years. Walker and Mellaart are among those who believe she has a connection to the Great Mother. During Neolithic times, followers worshiped the Great Mother and viewed her as the ultimate ideal of femininity and fertility. She often appears in sculptures and status as a seated woman with a serene look on her face. Scholars on this side believe that the Great Mother concept started in one region and made its way to ancient Greece where it became the Gaia legend.
Other experts in Greek mythology such as Staples and Ruck believe that both Demeter and Gaia were originally the same person. Some take this a step forward and add in the Persephone legend along with Hectate stories. They believe that all of the stories were originally about the same woman and that Greeks attributed them to different women later. A few books also claim that the story of Potnia came from Gaia. She was a woman known as the Mistress or the Mistress of Animals who later became associated with Artemis. Potnia was a popular deity in Crete.
Mother Earth disappeared from popular mythos for many years until James Lovelock brought her back. Lovelock is a British scientist who released Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth in 1979. This book introduced the Gaia hypothesis, which is a theory backed by other scientists. The theory claims that both inorganic compounds and living organisms on the planet must work together. Lovelock chose to name his theory after the earth goddess known as the personification of the earth. Though he won several awards for his work, he also attracted some controversy.
During the 1990s, the hypothesis gained attention from those interested in preserving the environment. They claimed that this concept would minimize the risk humans had on the world at large. New age enthusiasts also celebrated the concept.
The controversy came from those who felt it had no scientific basis. One biologist even claimed that the idea belonged in the dark ages. Others thought that humans caused more damage to the environment when they attempted to protect it. Some even thought that it went against the concepts of natural selection and evolution. Many wonder what the goddess would think about the idea if she was around today.
Quick Facts About Goddess Gaia
- Gaia had more than 60 children with her sons and grandsons along with her consorts and other romantic partners.
- The goddess is unique because she was born without a father and had several children on her own.
- Delphi, one of the oldest and most recognizable of all oracles, was a possession of Gaia’s who she created after creating mystical vapors.
- Despite the fact that she never settled down with one man, many chose her to oversee their weddings.
- At least 11 of her children only occasionally appear in legends as hers. Other legends claim they had different parents.
- Ancient Greeks believed that all life and elements of the earth came from her.
- Leto, Uranus, Apollo and Aphrodite are among the Olympians in Gaia’s family tree.
- The most common names attributed to her are Gaea and Gaia.
Goddess Gaia/Gaea Trivia
- Some research indicates that ancient Greeks worshiped Gaia long before they worshiped Zeus and other primordial deities. It was only after they learned about his heritage that they began following her.
- The first time she appeared in print was in the Iliad where Homer described her as a divine being others sacrificed animals to and worshiped.-Hesiod also wrote about the goddess and focused both on her relationship with Uranus and how she worked with her children to castrate him.
- Though Cronus murdered Uranus for her, Gaia later turned on him and stopped trusting him. When he and Zeus battled, she sided with her other son.-Her commitment to her children helped her develop a reputation as a nurturer, especially of young kids.
- Many scholars believe that she appears in fewer stories and legends than other goddesses because she existed before them.
- While the goddess’s Greek name is Γαια Γαιη Γη, her Roman name is Tellus.-In some stories, Gaia became famous after she refused to listen to her partner and obey his orders.
- An 1875 painting called Gaea shows the goddess nude and floating in the air with a cherub clinging to her leg.
- Gaia has a close connection to both the Titans such as Theia and Tethys and the Giants as she is the mother of both groups.
- Many ancient art pieces depict Gaia as a larger or full-figured woman. Some believe this is because many stories about her focus on her as a mother.
- The term Gaea comes from her name and is a scientific term used to describe the earth.
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