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Earth Mother/Goddess

The concept of the existence of a "Mother Earth" or of "Mother Nature" has roots that go back thousands of years, to prehistoric cultures devoted to the worship of an omnipresent feminine deity. In ancient times the Earth Mother or Goddess was a primary deity, the spiritual driving force that inspired the building of so many temples and megalithic sites worldwide.

She features in most Creation Myths from around the world, usually giving birth to the earth, the life upon it and sometimes even the whole universe. The concept of death and rebirth was central to Goddess worship, acknowledging these as essential processes in the cyclical process of the land. This is displayed continually around us in nature by the annual succession of the seasons, and by the waxing and waning of the moon.

It was the feminine Creatrix that underpinned the natural elements and forces of the landscape - indeed, to tribal cultures the Goddess was nature. Ancient people saw her body in hills and mountains, as part of their mythic landscapes. Twinned hills were the breasts of the Earth Mother, such as the Paps of Anu in Ireland, the Eildon Hills and Paps of Jura in Scotland, and two hills seen from the Grey Mare long barrow in Dorset. At the Craddock Moor stone circle in Cornwall during the third millennium BC, observers would have seen the mid-summer sun set into Brown Willy, a rocky hill topped by two giant cairns 8 miles distant.

Interestingly, the name Brown Willy comes from Bron Whylly, Bron meaning breast, and Whylly meaning to gaze or observe. On South Harris, West Stocklett is a hill known locally as the Sleeping Giant or Hag Mountain because of the similarity to the features of a prone, elderly woman, complete with grey hair, shadowy eye, sunken mouth and drooping breasts!

Palaeolithic paintings found in caves, and sculpted figurines as old as 30,000 BC, display representations of the female form. They were archetypal mythic images, used to re-enact seasonal and fertility myths. They were indeed stored memories, connecting our ancestors with the yearly cycles of death and renewal of life. The Earth Mother was seen as the provider of shelter, food and water, and because of this reverence many temples dedicated to her were erected across the world.

The Neolithic temple of Catal Huyuk, in Turkey, housed special shrines to revere the Earth Goddess, and barrows of a similar age in Britain and Ireland may have been erected for similar purposes. The designs of many passage graves and chambered long barrows seem to emulate her womb, and megaliths display her breasts and vulva.

At Avebury, in Wiltshire, a whole ritual landscape was created with the interaction between Man, the Earth Mother, and the sun in mind. Terence Meaden has discovered several vulva-shaped holes that were carved out of gigantic stones as symbols of the birthing and fertility aspect the divine feminine. The author has subsequently found these yoni-like crevices at other sites, such as the Nine Stones, Rempstone and Corscombe, all in Dorset.

Silbury Hill, close to Avebury, is regarded by many as the ever-pregnant belly of the Earth Mother and this may have been at least one dimension of its original symbolism.

The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, the Minoans of Crete, and the Celts, all had a primary Earth Mother Goddess, the various aspects of her being depicted as separate Goddesses. The Celts held the concept of an Earth Mother very dear to them. Celtic and Romano-British sites attest to the popularity of Mother Goddess cults, inscriptions frequently mentioning the "Matronae". In his excellent book Gods With Thunderbolts - Religion in Roman Britain, Guy De La Bédoyère cites over 30 examples of Romano-British altars dedicated to the Matronae/Mother Goddess. She is often depicted as a triple goddess, symbolising birth, death and rebirth, or that of Maiden, Mother and Crone, these being the three aspects of the turning year.

Fine carvings of these have been found in Gloucestershire, Cirencester and near Hadrian's Wall. At Caerwent, in Wales, a Mother Goddess stone statue was found holding a palm branch, symbolic of fertility. In British and Irish myth, the Earth Mother Goddess has many names, such as Danu, Dana, Anu and Ana. Various legends depict them as giving birth to the land or particular tribes and races, or being the ever-present force behind nature. A cauldron, symbolic of the womb of the Goddess, is mentioned in several myths. This "cauldron of regeneration" had the power of rebirth, and was said to revive the dead, symbolising not only an afterlife and reincarnation, but also the cycles of nature.

Due to strangleholds imposed by the Church, the Goddess eventually went underground, so to speak, the Virgin Mary taking over as the figure of the divine feminine. She was the Christian incarnation of the mythic Mother, the nurturing aspect of the creative earth. Like other deified mothers before her, such as Isis, Astarte, Demeter and Cybele, she gave birth to a god figure that came to save humanity, died, and was resurrected.

The Earth Mother Goddess has today been embraced by new generations of pagans and others that seek to connect with the land. This may be through such things as ecology, vegetarianism, buying organic produce, green politics, anti-road building and anti-GM crop demos, and feminist issues. These, and a host of other activities and callings, are providing, for many, a link with the spiritual dimension of Planet Earth.

Perhaps a society that returns once again to regarding the landscape as precious, and indeed sacred, will think twice about doing further damage to the fragile balance of life on earth. To perceive a living Earth Goddess landscape, as our ancestors did aeons ago, is to connect with an aspect of ourselves that has been neglected for far too long, which has resulted in the rape and plunder of our ever-giving Mother. For we are umbilically connected to the land, a concept embraced by our distant ancestors.

By Peter Knight

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