"Earth mother” and “mother goddess” worship dates back to prehistoric times and it was a phenomenon which was widely spread in most of the ancient societies of the world. There is enough proof in human history to suggest that we had always believed in living in balance with nature and in fact we revered "nature" and "earth" in a motherly form.
Earth mother: The revival of the mother goddess phenomenon
During the Christian period the ancient tradition of reverence for "earth as mother" or "mother goddess" was largely suppressed and it was only in the 18th century that again open references were made about the female earth as Mother Goddess. In the 19th century there was a widespread revival of the worship of "earth mother and mother goddess". Further this was also a period when discoveries were made around the world of native tribes and indigenous people who worshiped the "Earth" as a female deity from thousands of years. In fact it was found that these societies practiced the matriarchal form of social organization where the authority of the family or tribe was in the hands of the women. In these matriarchal societies the worship of the "supreme female earth deity" was a spiritual and cultural practice of paramount importance. These societies existed in perfect balance with nature and believed in a philosophy of peaceful cohabitation with the other manifestations of nature. Research into these indigenous people and primitive tribes gives us an indication about the cycle of human evolution. It is now thought that in the early days of human evolution societies were mostly matriarchal in nature. The various discoveries of the Palaeolithic “Venus” figurines show that indeed the early human societies would have been matriarchal in nature. These ancient societies followed a goddess cult and worshiped the supreme feminine deity in the form of earth goddess or mother goddess. So we can clearly emphasize that the worship of the supreme feminine deity in the form earth goddess or mother goddess is a prehistoric phenomenon dating back to the Stone Age.
Further the archaeological excavations also indicate that the supreme feminine deity in the form of earth goddess or mother goddess was revered as a sign of fertility and creativity with immense generative capacities. This can be seen with the emphasis that was given to the figurine of “Venus” of Willendorf’s vulva which was found to be marked with red ochre pigment signifying the life cycle. In this form the earth mother or mother goddess serves as general fertility deity representing the bountiful embodiment of the earth.
Prominent depictions of "earth as mother" can be seen in the native tribes and indigenous societies like the Aztec. Some of these important depictions are as mentioned below
Earth Mother: Itzpapalotl
Itzpapalotl is the goddess who is considered as the darker aspect of earth mother figure and she is the patroness of warriors. Goddess Itzpapalotl would have been revered and called upon by the Aztecs for their numerous expeditions for territorial expansions. She is depicted as a mixture of butterfly and hunting bird. She has the claws of the eagle and she also has the fangs. She is shown to grasp the sky with her claws. She was worshiped even before Tenochtitlan and was considered as a prominent Aztec deity of war.
Earth Mother: Huaxtec Deity
This goddess strongly resembles Itzpapalotl, the warrior goddess of the Aztec. She wears a conical headpiece and hooked earrings common to Huaxtec figures and many of her characteristics originate from the Gulf of Mexico.
Earth Mother: Coatlicue
The goddess is named as "Coatlicue" because she is the one who wears the Serpent Skirt. She was recognized by the Aztecs as a serpentine form of the Earth Mother as well as the mother of their patron deity Huitzilopochtli, the war god who brought the Aztecs to the island in Lake Texcoco from which they would build their empire. Goddess Coatlicue would have been revered as the goddess of creation and her fearsome form the “skeletal Coatlicue” would have been considered as the goddess of destruction. In these depictions the Aztec recognized the true cycle of nature which included the creative as well as the destructive forces.
Earth Mother: Skeletal Coatlicue
As discussed above the skeletal coatlicue is the more menacing form of Coatlicue. She is the goddess who is represented as the Goddess of Death and she retains the serpent-laden skirt which denotes Coatlicue. She has deathly stare and she looks frightful in her depiction.
Earth Mother: Cihuacoatl
Goddess Cihuacoatl is depicted as the "Serpent Woman" who wears a cloak rising to a serpentine hood. She holds a rattle in her left hand and a serpent in her right. Any depiction in the form of a serpent had a special meaning in many ways. The serpentine form connoted to the higher being above the mortals with immense creative and destructive powers of nature and therefore Goddess Cihuacoatl would have been placed very high in the hierarchal order of the deities. Moreover Cihuacoatl was not only a goddess's name but additionally the title of one of the highest ranking priests in the Aztec hierarchy.
Earth Mother: Aztec Cihuacoatl Stela
Goddess in this form depicts the feathered serpent and she as Aztec Cihuacoatl stela is an Aztec form of the Serpent Goddess Cihuacoatl. The human face of the goddess has serpentine jaws and is surrounded with long, flowing quetzal feathers. She was one of the most prominent goddess worshiped for bringing good luck and good fortune. In fact no other goddess received as many Aztec sacrifices as goddess Cihuacoatl Stela.
Earth Mother: Lord/Lady of the Earth
The "Lord of the Earth," or Tlalteuctli, is very closely linked to Coatlicue. This is one of the many cases where the divisions between male and female were intentionally blurred, and although the term teuctli usually indicates a "Lord," it was considered gender-neutral and equally applied to the females. The image of Tlalteuctli in the stela here depicts her or him descending into the earth. Many Aztec sculptures have a god's face on the underside that faces the earth and this was considered as a reverent tribute to the deities.
Earth Mother: The Earth Monster
This is more of a bestial representation of the Earth as the great consuming monster. The Earth was seen as an indiscriminate devourer, consuming life in order to generate it anew. The open jaws stretch across the top of the piece, though the eyes are both on the same side of the head. These depictions and the many of such kind show that the ancient tribes and societies never segregated the good and the bad as seen in the dualism that exists in the modern religions. These ancient cultures believed that nature encompassed both the creative and the destructive and so do the human beings.
Earth mother: The Greek and roman period and the real mother goddess phenomenon
The real concept of an "earth mother" or "mother goddess" or "great goddess" derives primarily from the Greeks dating back to 7th century BCE. The Greeks worshiped a deep breasted goddess "earth Gaea" who was considered as a "firm seat of all things forever" and who after emerging out of Chaos led to the creation of the universe including the earth and its various manifestations. According to theological writings there were lots of sanctuaries erected in the name of this great goddess in the ancient Greece. One among these sanctuaries was of "Earth as the Nursing Mother" near the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens. After the Greeks, later the Romans worshipped the great mother goddess Gaea as Tellus, or Terra Mater, whom they called "the Great Mother." The cult of the Great Mother called as the Magna Mater, later identified with the mother-goddess Cybele and by the Greeks as Rhea, was later established in Rome by the 3rd century BCE.
Further to understand and study the belief of "earth as mother" and "mother goddess" we need to look into the following topics in detail.
1. Paleolithic figures
Article by Sanjay Nair
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