Earth-Mother, Worship of the

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Turkish excavations in Asia Minor in the first half of the twentieth century showed that the female idols, which can be connected in part at least with the cult of the Earth-Mother, go back to the fourth millennium b.c. The persistence of her cult in Asia Minor is evident from its various offshoots of the Magna Mater type (see mys-tery religions, greco-oriental), for these offshoots all exhibit a common foundation, and in its various manifestations this cult continues to the end of antiquity. The concept of the Earth-Mother was given a more intellectual and spiritual character as soon as she came to be identified with the ancestor-mother of mankind. Ethnological research holds that this fusion took place at an early date. The Celtic worshipers of the Matres, or Matronae, evidently felt a closer, family relationship with these divinities (see celtic religion).

The Greeks may have brought with them a disposition to worship the Earth as an inheritance from the common religion of the Indo-Europeans. In India Prithivī, "the broad" (earth, as a flat surface), is a divine figure. Among the Persians earth worship is probably retained in the cult of the four elements. The Greeks, who entered Greece from the north in several waves, had certainly become acquainted with an earlier farming culture in the Danube area and had come under the influence of its mentality. In Greece they found themselves in the sphere of a common culture that in the third millennium, despite all local variations, dominated the whole region from Palestine, Cyprus, Crete, and the islands of the Aegean Sea as far west as lower Italy. In the second millennium this culture is called the Minoan-Mycenaean, and the worship of a Mistress of Nature, who can be regarded as an hypostasis of the Asianic goddess of life, was one of its characteristic features. The connection with the earth was strongly emphasized.

For the most part, Homer, the poet of the aristocracy, ignored the earth cult in any form. On the other hand, Hesiod, the peasant poet, stressed the religion of the oppressed class. By emphasizing this predominantly agricultural religionand by advertence to her significant role in his Theogony he raised the figure of personified Earth to higher recognition. In Hesiod Gaia, it is true, Earth is only the Mother of the Titans (by Uranus), and laterwithout a father being namedof the Giants. Since Zeus, the son of one of the Titans (Chronus), seizes the rule of the world, she thus appears as one of the great primitive principles. However, her mythology and personification is at first very vague. If the extent of her worship is taken as a norm for divine rank, it must be said in general that Gaia (Ge) as a goddess did not have much significance. The opposing thesis of W. Otto and E. Peterich, his pupil, has been rightly rejected by M. Nilsson (M. P. Nilsson, Geschichte der griechischen Religion 1:428). The position of Earth in law as a guarantee of an oath (already in Homer) is higher than in religion. The occasional appeals to her in tragedy are to be regarded as poetic testimony with a philosophical slant [A. Dieterich, Mutter Erde (Leipzig 1925); Nilsson, op. cit. 432].

The separation of Demeter and of Rhea (the mother of Zeus) from Gaia as more personal figures indicates that Gaia, being conceived as an all too physical and impersonal magnitude, offered insufficient support to religious demands and especially to those of an eschatological nature. The same holds true of Roman Tellus. However, Tellus as a symbol of the vegetative life-force enjoyed a higher esteem in the early Roman farming population than the shadowy and mythless consorts of the gods [F. Altheim, Terra Mater (Giessen 1931)].

Bibliography: m. eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, tr. r. sheed (New York 1958) esp. 239247. w. drexler, "Gaia," Ausführliches Lexikon der griechischen und röischen Mythologie, ed. w. h. roscher, (Leipzig 18841937) 1.2:156686. s. eitrem, "Gaia," Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. (Stuttgart 1910) 7.1:467479.

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