Getting to know Greek Goddesses of Motherhood
Greek Goddesses of Motherhood
A Tribute to Mother’s Day Today
and Every Day
At the time of this writing, Mother’s Day is fast approaching. Most cultures designate a special day to honor mothers and motherhood. It the United States, Mother’s Day takes place the second Sunday every May. So, in honor of mothers of all kinds in all phases of life, I thought it would be neat to take a look at Greek goddesses for motherly inspiration.
In the US, Mother’s Day was proclaimed a national holiday by Congress in 1914. This action was launched by Anna Jarvis, who decided there should be one day a year to recognize mothers. She got the idea after the passing of her own beloved mother in 1907. Anna Jarvis held a memorial service for her mother and asked all attendees to wear white carnations. Eventually, the tradition stuck. To this day, the carnation is a symbol of motherhood. Some still practice wearing a carnation on Mother’s Day. If you choose to take up the tradition, wear a white carnation to honor mother’s who have passed into non-physical; wear a red carnation to celebrate mothers who are still living with us.
I’m under the opinion that mothers and motherhood should be celebrated EVERY day, not just Mother’s Day. If you are of that same mindset, this article on Greek goddesses of motherhood might be an extra inspiration to honor moms of all kinds at all times. The following is a list of five Greek goddesses. In their own unique ways, they embody what it means to be a mom.
“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.”~Barbara Kingsolver
I created this post to bring more roots and connection to the idea of motherhood. The deities of ancient cultures are a great starting point for a foundational understanding of big concepts. Maybe you’re a mother. These Greek goddesses might bring new meaning to the heavy job of being a mom. If you’re not a mom, perhaps these mommy goddesses encourage you to tip your hat to the diverse, dynamic, dramatic realm of being a mom.
Five Common Greek Goddesses of Motherhood
She’s an Olympian goddess. Apollo is her brother. As Apollo is a sun-god, Artemis is a moon-god. Moons are tremendously symbolic of motherhood. In fact, the phases of the moon are symbolic of the process of giving birth:
New Moon equates to a waiting womb, vacant yet full of potential. Waxing Moon equates to incubating the seed of life. Life has been planted within the womb, and it begins to grow, making the moon/womb great with life.
Waning Moon equates to passing the child. The internal incubation is done, and new life has been expressed into the world to create a life of its own. This moon connection with Artemis solidifies her station as a Greek goddess of motherhood and protector of children. Find out more about the symbolism of the moon here. Interestingly, Artemis was rabid about keeping her virginity. This might seem like an oxymoron compared with her status as a mother goddess. But not really. In mythology, everything is metaphor and parable. Artemis’ virginity is symbolic of purity. Purity is akin to children…innocence, and being fresh to the world. Another interesting feature is Artemis’ fondness for the hunt. In fact, one of her sacred symbols is a bow and arrow (which Zeus gave her). It might not be obvious, but this aspect of Artemis is big-time symbolic of motherhood. How? Well, hunting is a metaphor for providing to our children. We have to have the savvy, skills and patience to give our kids what they need to survive. The bow and arrow is also a symbol of motherhood. The bow is a symbol of the female womb. The arrow, ehem…without getting too graphic…is a symbol of the male reproductive organ. The union between the two leads to the creation of new life – a child.
She’s the wife of Zeus. She’s most noted for her fits of jealousy (Zeus was a renowned cad, always casting a wandering eye on other females). But really, this jealousy is just a manifestation of protection – which is a big deal in the realm of motherhood. Hera was responsible for protecting the sanctity and institution of marriage. In so doing, she was insuring her offspring, as marriage is often synonymous with creating a family. Hera is revered as a goddess of fertility and childbirth.
Interestingly, her last child with Zeus was Eileithyia, who also became a goddess of childhood. This points to the power of mother-daughter connection. There is an undeniable bond between mother and child, especially mothers and daughters. They share a commonality of what it means to be a girl, woman and sometimes a mother. One of Hera’s symbols is the peacock. There’s is a reason for that old cliche “proud as a peacock”. Hera was the epitome of the proud mamma. She was also a proud woman, and her identity was providing a good home, a good environment for her family. Another one of her symbols is the lily. The lily (and Hera by association) is symbolic of lots of mommy qualities like: Fertility, Birth, Motherhood, Faith, Transition and Hope. I’ve written more about the symbolic meaning of the lily here, if you’re interested in the full scoop. The apple tree is another icon for Hera. This tree is symbolic of: Beauty, Honesty, Devotion, Connection and Fertility. More about apple tree symbolism can be found here. The pomegranate is also Hera’s sacred symbol. This fruit has been long-held as a fruit of fertility and motherhood. A lot of this deals with the womb-like shape of the fruit, and the preponderance of seeds it holds within its womb.
She is also known as ‘Bona Dea’, which translated to mean ‘Good Goddess’. She has also been called ‘Magnus Dea’, which means ‘Great Goddess’. So when we talk about Greek Goddesses and motherhood, Maia is a big, good mamma. The name ‘Maia’ means ‘growth and increase’ which is exactly what a mother goes through during the process of bringing a child into this world. I’m not talking about just physical growth from becoming great with child (pregnancy).
I’m also talking about ‘growing and increasing’ as a woman, as a female, as a mother. They say a mother’s job is never done. Consequently, a mother’s evolution as a mom and a person is never finished either. Ideally, she grows and becomes greater with every lesson she learns from being a mom. Maia was considered the brightest and beautiful star amongst the Pleiades. Pleiades is a star constellation that represents the seven heavenly sisters in Greek myth. You can learn more about the myth of the Pleiades sisters on my blog here. Each of the seven heavenly sisters (Pleiades) represented a virtue. Maia represented compassion. Any mother knows this ingredient is necessary in the recipe of rearing a child. Maia’s symbols are: Earth, Spring, Warmth and Wildflowers. All of these elements rub shoulders with motherhood. Spring gives birth to new life. The Earth itself is the ultimate mother. Let’s face it, none of us would be here and alive without the Earth and Her generous provision (food, water, oxygen). Wildflowers are just freaking happy. Granted, not all mothers are happy, but most mothers are happy when their little tykes pick wildflowers in the field to present them to mamma. 🙂
In both modern and ancient communities, Gaia sits on the throne of ‘ultimate mother’. Her name is synonymous with ‘Earth’. In fact, her name means ‘land’ or ‘earth’ in the Greek language. Lots of conservationist and earth-conscious folks refer to the Earth as Gaia. Among all the Greek goddesses, Gaia is a pretty big deal. Why? Because she’s positioned as one of the first to emerge from ‘Chaos’. Chaos was the first thing that ever came into existence in the Universe.
From Chaos, everything else in the world became manifest. Since Gaia was the first to come forth from that place of ultimate birth, it makes sense she would be the first mother. And indeed she was a knock-out mom. Myth tells us Gaia made the Earth itself! She made the mountains, the seas and the sky. From her birth came all of life – at least according to Greek myth. As the Earth’s creatrix, she is the mother of a massive ecosystem. In essence she is the mother of trees, birds, bees, etc. She is even the source of humanity. That’s a lot of community she’s mothered over time. All the mother’s in the world should 1) Thank Gaia so they are able to have their own babies and 2) Give a heavy sigh of relief they didn’t have to give birth to mountains, seas and skies. LOL. Her symbols are: Earth (of course), Fruit and Grains. All of these relate to the bounty that comes from the Earth. Fruit is especially linked to motherhood, especially pomegranates (see Hera), apples and peaches. If you’ll notice, these fruits have unique seeds. Seeds are linked with motherhood. Pomegranates have a bucket-load of seeds within their womb-like fruit. Apples form a sacred five-pointed star (symbolic of all the elements, which Gaia is mythological responsible for birthing) within which its seed is the center. Peaches have big, beautiful seeds – a massive pit that, is a reminder of the seed that grows within all mothers.
She is more than a name of one of Saturn’s moons, and more than the namesake of the Tethys ocean. Tethys is a chthonic goddess. What?! What’s a chthonic? It’s a weird word that means ‘within, under and beneath the earth.’ That’s a heady concept, but it is core to the essence of motherhood. Greek goddesses never had life easy. It’s not easy to take on the responsibility of a whole domain, much less a few naughty god-children they’ve given birth to.
Tethys was the goddess of the Earth’s womb. Every under-surface, orifice, nook and cranny within the Earth is akin to a sacred womb. Check all the ancient belief systems, and they’ll confirm it. Consider: It takes a gateway for life to flow forth. Often, that flow comes forth in a torrent of fluid. This ties Tethys with motherhood. Why? Because she in addition to a chthonic goddess, she is also a sea goddess. Her symbols are: Fish, Wings, Water and Stars. Water is symbolic of motherhood as well as: Cleansing, Healing, Purity, Emotion and Dreams. There is a lot of those elements going on in the path of being a mother. Tethys further demonstrates her alignment with motherhood as being a symbolic nurse. She was Hera’s nurse. Once, when Hera was displeased with the way Ursa Major and Minor were moving in the heavens. Hera called on her nurse, Tethys and asked her to gently shift these constellations. She did this, with dexterity and skill. All of us know what it’s like to need nurturing and healing. Lots of mothers are extra-awesome at this – so was Tethys. If none of these aspects of this goddess convinces you of her mother-status, then consider this: She had 38 kids! Whoa! 🙂
“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”~ N.K. Jemisin
In conclusion, I hope this article on Greek goddesses and motherhood has given you a different view of what it means to be a mom. Maybe (if you’re not a mom), it’s helped bring a new perspective on what it means to have a mom. Let’s face it…some moms are the coolest. Some moms are tough. Some moms are not all that great. Other moms are like freaking June Cleaver (Google ‘Leave it to Beaver’ if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
Please keep in mind, these Greek goddesses of motherhood are not the end-all-be-all. They aren’t the ultimate. They’re not even the whole shebang of mother goddesses. There are more, like: Demeter, Hestia, Rhea, Leto…all of which deserve research and contemplation. What’s more, there are tons of motherhood goddesses around the world. Do a little digging, and you’re sure to find a goddess with whom you can relate.
There are lots of different moms in this world. Some great, some not. Looking over these Greek goddesses of motherhood displays the same kind of potential. If you look deeper into their history, some of these goddess-moms have some crazy qualities and questionable behaviors as mothers. But they all are strong and powerful. I’m pretty sure these qualities are prime criteria for having the chutzpah to even have a kid. I couldn’t do it. There is no way I’d have the ‘right stuff’ to birth a child, much less raise it. But that doesn’t make me inert to appreciating all my mom went through to get me where I am today. In fact, she is STILL being a mom to me! She never gives up, and that’s the best mom. These Greek goddesses of motherhood never gave up either. Motherhood is an evolutionary process. It’s also a big bonding experience. No matter what the circumstances…once a mom, always a mom.
At any rate, I hope these goddesses offer new perspective to motherhood. And (at the time of this writing) with Mother’s Day approaching, I hope that perspective plays a role in your view about moms of all types around the world.
As always, thanks for reading!
Big mamma blessings to you all,
Other Articles of Interest on This Site
The mother bird archetype is undeniably heartwarming, and the bird world is rife with the meanings of motherhood. This article offers you birds that have stood for nurturing and mothering through various cultures. Check out the list of birds symbolic of motherhood here.