The history of the worship of “earth goddess” and the mythology related to it can be seen in many forms in many of the ancient tribes and societies. Some of the examples are the Aztecs who worshiped goddess Tlalteuctli, the Greeks who worshiped Goddess Demeter and the ancient tribes of the northern Germany who worshiped the Germanic tribal goddess Ertha. These are just few examples to name but the worship of earth goddess was a prominent phenomenon in most of the ancient societies. These societies strongly believed in the universal truth of nature’s supreme power. They respected “Mother Nature” and believed in the principle of living in sync with the nature. Another aspect of the goddess worship was seen in the form of the “triple goddess” phenomenon which was again a very widespread belief across the world and is strongly seen in various forms in numerous societies even today. The triple goddess represents the feminine force behind nature and the life itself.
Earth Goddess: Native American Legends of the Aztec
The Native American legends of Aztec speak about the creation of earth from the earth goddess Tlalteuctli. As per the legends the creative force representing the bright and dark aspects of creation brings goddess Tlalteuctli down from the high and her one half with shoulder becomes the earth. Further she is assigned the power of creation of all things on earth. From her hair come the trees, flowers and grass; from her skin, very fine grass and tiny flowers; from her eyes, wells and fountains, and small caves; from her mouth, rivers and large caves; from her nose, valleys and mountains; from her shoulders, mountains. She is a goddess who also demands sacrifice in the form of human heart for all her creative activities. She wails in the night if she does not get her traditional offerings and does not bear fruits until her demands are met.
The earth goddess of the Greek is called as Demeter. She is the one who is the goddess of planned society and she is also identified as the fertility goddess. She is also linked to other prominent fertility goddesses of the Greek that is Rhea and Gaia. She is the mother of Persephone and when Persephone was abducted by the lord of the underworld “Hades”, Demeter roamed in search of Persephone. This was the time when the earth became barren and did not bear any grain. Later though Persephone was united with her mother Demeter, she would spend a third of a year with her husband Hades in the underworld. The remaining time Persephone comes back and is united with her mother Demeter. During the time of unification Demeter lets things grow and this is identified with the summer season. The dying and blossoming of nature is thus connected with Goddess Demeter. Further Demeter is the goddess who taught humanity the art of sowing and ploughing the earth for cultivation of grains. By this Demeter had laid the foundation for a planned society for humanity rather than the nomadic existence that they were living till then. She was worshiped also as the auspicious goddess of marriage and in Demeter‘s honor as a goddess of marriage, women in Athens, and other centers in Greece, celebrated the feast of Thesmophoria. In ancient art, Demeter was often portrayed sitting as a solemn woman, often wearing a wreath of braided ears of corn. Well-known is the statue made by Knidos from mid forth century BCE. Her usual symbolic attributes are the fruits of the earth and the torch, the latter presumably referring to her search for Persephone. Her sacred animals were the snake an earth creature and the pig another symbol of fertility. The Romans equated her with the goddess Ceres.
On the lines of the earth goddess of other societies, tribes and sects the north German tribes venerated Ertha, the Germanic earth goddess. These tribes would unite in a particular time of the year in celebration and worship of Ertha or mother earth. It was believed that during this particular time of the year the goddess would visit the mortal world of their different nations in her chariot. For her visits an unviolated sacred grove would be ready in the ocean sands and a priest would play host to the visiting goddess. The priest would wait near the chariot and the goddess would rest in the groove undisturbed. From here the goddess would take a trip and visit all the places where she was worshiped and venerated. This becomes a season of joy and festivity among the tribes as everybody would wait for the goddess visit. During this particular period there would be a universal ceasefire to all the hostilities among the tribes or with the outsiders and no hostile weapon would be taken up. As the festive season would near the end the same priest would make preparations for the return journey of the goddess to her other worldly aboard. These preparations included necessary sacrifices. Finally the goddess leaves for her abode through a secret lake and the ritual is performed with the help of slaves who are also believed to be consumed by the lake as human sacrifices. The belief was that if the Goddess returned happy after her sojourn she would ensure a bountiful season for the next one year.
Earth Goddess: The triple goddess
The worship of the triple goddess has been seen in various societies from the ancient to the modern times. Various cultural mythologies across the world celebrate the existence of the triple goddess. Examples of the triple goddess are the three Norms of the Norse, the Moria and Erinnyes of the Greek mythologies, the goddess of sovereignty of the Irish myth namely Bandha, Eriu and Fodha, the great Goddess of Hinduism the Mahadevi and her three manifestations Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kali. The other prominent example is the three goddess of modern paganism corresponding to the three of the four phases of the moon namely the youthful Virgin or Maiden Goddess representing the waxing moon, the mother goddess the full moon and the Crone or Hag representing the waning phase of the moon. The Greek Goddess Artemis is often perceived as the Virginal huntress who is associated with the Waxing Moon, and who rules the Earth. Selene is the Mother aspect of the Goddess who is associated with the Full Moon and who rules the sky. Finally completing the triplicity is Hecate, the Crone, who is associated with the Waning and Dark Moon, and rules the Underworld.
It is interesting to note that when these “three Greek Goddess” are mentioned in this manner, they are not only perceived as Lunar Goddess but also the ruler of the three worlds- the Heavens, Earth and the Underworld. This aspect of representing the heavens, earth and underworld is also seen by the portrayal of Diana, Luna and Persephone. In modern Paganism, one reason for the possible popularity of the Triple Goddess is that she represents all aspects of the female life cycle. The Triple Goddess is often depicted as sexual, fertile and as a mother. The problem of the mainstream western thinking is the dissociation of the sexual aspect and the role as the mother. This can be seen in the closest Western equivalent to the Goddess, that of the Virgin Mary of the Catholic Church. This leads to great confusion as the natural process of sexuality and fertility are disconnected from the process of motherhood. This kind of denigration of the life forces and suppression of sexuality and fertility can be physically and psychologically damaging for both women and men.
Earth Goddess: The “virgin aspect” of the triple goddess
In fact the real problem has been the misinterpretation of the original meaning of the word “virgin”. The real meaning of “virgin” has been grossly manipulated to suit vested interests. In the original sense “the virgin” when attached to the goddess referred to a “sense of not being owned” and it depicted independent minded goddesses who were necessarily not attached to a consort. It is this original meaning that was “really meant” in reference to the Virgin Goddess of the ancient societies and cultures. But later the concept of virginity was linked to sexual chastity and this connotation completely denigrated the bodily manifestation of sexuality and fertility which is so much part of our “being” and which was so much venerated in the ancient societies for its creative and generative powers. We need to understand that without nature’s intervention nothing can manifest in this universe and sexuality and fertility is the prominent way of propagating “nature’s purpose” in the living. The “goddess cult” of the ancient world had actually recognized the power of nature’s creative and generative forces in the form of sexuality and fertility and it is heartening to see a rekindling of these forces in the modern times.
Earth Goddess: The “mother aspect” of the triple goddess
When we move from the “virgin aspect” to the “mother aspect” of the triple goddess we need to recognize that without sexuality we cannot have fertility and without fertility there is no question of motherhood. The Mother aspect of the Triple Goddess is represented by the Full Moon or the Earth. Often this aspect of the goddess is seen as Gaea the Earth and is thought of as the great mother and the divine feminine who had given birth to us, who nourishes and sustains us and in whom we finally find our rest and rebirth. The mother aspect of the goddess celebrates the “sexuality and fertility” of the Mother Nature. The irony of the whole situation is that the “virgin aspect” of the triple goddess was distorted by the Christian Church in the past and the “sexual and fertile mother aspect of the great goddess” was totally suppressed by the Christian Church in the medieval times. For the early Christian church it was very difficult to reconcile with a female goddess who was “sexual and fertile” and who was the reason for the birth of everything in the universe.
On the other hand the good news is that though the manifestation of the goddess celebrating her sexuality, fertility and motherhood was suppressed in the Christian period it persisted throughout the medieval times amongst scholars and others who were still orientated to the ways of ancient Paganism. The persistence of a few in the past has today become a widespread movement which espouses the creative and generative powers of the nature.
Earth Goddess: English herbal of the 12th century
The proof of the existence and veneration of the “sexual and fertile” form of mother goddess even in the highly suppressed conditions of the past can be seen in the a 12th century English herbal whose hymns worship and praise the “mother goddess” with the following sentiments.
“Goddess is divine, she is earth and she is the all prevailing Mother Nature. She is the generator of everything including the sun, moon and the universe. She is the guardian of the sky, sea and all Gods and their powers. The mother goddess controls all the manifestations of the nature including the sleep, the rising, the birth, the nurturing and the death. The human spirit came from her and will go back to her. Without the great mother goddess no power can manifest and no god can exist. She is the queen of all gods and all mortals. Her name has to be evoked and she has to be thanked for the splendour of her manifestations. She is the supreme primordial goddess who existed before existence and who shall exist even after the end of existence. Nothing can escape her will and her way. “
The actual 12th century English herbal which is hymned in praise of the Goddess goes like this…
Earth, Divine Goddess, Mother Nature,
Who dost generate all things
And bringest forth ever anew the Sun
Which Thou hast given to the nation;
Guardian of sky and sea and of all Gods and powers;
Through thy influence all Nature is hushed and sinks to sleep
Again, when it pleases Thee,
Thou sendest forth the glad daylight
And nurturest life with Thine eternal surety;
And when the spirit of humankind passes,
To Thee it returns.
Thou indeed art rightly named Great Mother of the Gods;
Victory is Thy Divine name.
Thou art the source of the strength of peoples and Gods;
Without Thee nothing can either be born or made perfect;
Thou art mighty, Queen of the Gods.
Goddess, I adore Thee as Divine,
I invoke Thy name;
Vouchsafe to grant that which I ask of Three,
So shall I in return give thank to Thy Godhead,
With the faith that is Thy due.
Earth Goddess: The “last aspect” of the triple goddess
The last aspect of the triple Goddess is the Wise Woman, the Crone or Hag, who is the keeper of the Mysteries. The Crone Goddess symbolises our own inner wisdom, but also the elders who, in a tribal society, were the living repositories of the history and lore of that tribe. Their role was essential to the successful functioning of society and age had an honoured place.
Earth Goddess: The wisdom of the Crone
In fact the wisdom of the Crone or Hag says that we should not look at the manifestations of triple goddess with the age prescribed gender roles of the society. It was never meant to be that way. Nature is dynamic and nature’s manifestations cannot be tied in a prescribed order. The triple manifestations of the goddess exist in the outer universe as well as in our inner universe in the conscious, the subconscious and the superconscious mind. Which form will manifest in us and when it will manifest cannot be decided by manmade rules. It’s nature’s interplay and our choices made through awakening which decides our transition through the different manifestations or aspects of the goddess. One common error that people often tend to make when first coming across the triple goddess is relating human years to the various aspects. This is absolutely wrong. While the Virgin aspect of the goddess is depicted as a youthful young woman, it does not mean that someone of a more mature age cannot associate with this youthfulness. Similarly it is not necessary that you have to be an old women by age to gain the wisdom of the crone. The truth is that the different aspects of the triple goddess can be experienced “at whatever age we are” provided we genuinely put efforts to translate the manifestations into our lives.
Earth Goddess: Back to nature with the goddess cult
The goddess cult in the form of nature’s manifestations has seen a great revival in the modern times. The concepts of earth goddess, mother goddess and the triple goddess are actually helping us to understand the universal truth that how we are in fact connected to nature. The earth goddess and mother goddess manifestation makes us aware about the absolute power of nature. Further through the phases of the Moon and the cycles of our own lives depicted by birth, growth and death we can see the three distinct aspects of the great goddess in our own life. To know the great goddess in these different ways allows us a deeper insight into the divine feminine as a whole and helps us to become aware of our life’s purpose. We may look into her many faces and identify the messages for us in those manifestations and in this way we just get connected to the will and way of mother nature with a absolute awareness of the universal truth and a free choice to follow that universal truth.
Further to understand the earth goddess phenomenon and mother goddess worship we need to look in detail the following topics related to Paganism and its revival in today’s world.
1. Paganism redefined
2. The earth goddess
4. Paganism and the Transpersonal Soul
5. The Gaia Hypothesis and the Mother Goddess