When I first heard of Gaia, I was fascinated. It was in the context of the environmental movement, where the Gaia Hypothesis put forward the idea that the Earth is a sentient being and should be treated as such.
That vision immediately resonated with me as stating the obvious. But beyond its significance for the way we live on this planet, I wondered: who was this Earth Goddess Gaia? Where did she come from? Why hadn’t I heard about her before? And what could I learn from her myths and stories?
It took a long time before I found answers to these questions. Somehow I got distracted with the busyness of life. But they were still alive within me. And many years later, I suddenly found myself standing before what had once been her shrine.
It was a glorious spring afternoon. Ochre cliffs stretched into the sky. The sun slowly warmed the earth from her winter sleep. White almond blossoms drifted passed in the gentle wind, as I reached the gates of the archeological site of Delphi, in Greece.
This was the famous site of the Oracles of ancient Greece. About 2500 years ago, a major temple was erected here to the God Apollo. And for centuries, the powerful flocked from all over the ancient world to hear the prophecies uttered by the women who served as the temple’s priestesses and Oracle.
The Oracle’s words of wisdom influenced Ulysses’ famous journey, determined the fate of kingdoms, and left their mark on our collective imagination. The famous maxim “Know Thyself” was once inscribed on the upper lintel of the temple. It was accompanied by a second aphorism that never became quite as popular, but that couldn’t be more relevant to us today: “Nothing in excess”.
On first appearances, this stroll through ancient Greece, whilst magnificent, seemed to bear no linkages to Gaia. Apollo, after all, is a male god, associated with the shining light of the sun, which in later years came to be synonymous with the intellect, the rational side of human experience. This couldn’t have been further from the feminine energy I was unknowingly seeking…
I was ready to leave, when I spotted a smaller shrine, outside the main gates of the archeological compound. It was the remains of a beautiful circular temple dedicated to the Goddess Athena. Warrior goddess of wisdom, who inherited many of the traits of more archaic Goddesses, her attributes and depth would merit a post of their own…
But back to Gaia. This smaller temple was a haven of stillness, set amidst the greens and silver of an olive grove. Touched by such beauty, I was about to sit down on a fallen pillar, when I spotted a little inscription: “The function of this building is still unknown. It was possibly associated with the cult of Mother Earth, the first divinity worshipped in the sanctuary.”
I was stunned. There She was.
And yet, that was all: two lines on a forlorn panel in the shade of a tree… I found it tragically symbolic of the place we have given the Great Goddess in our Western psyches. An afterthought, eclipsed by the male deities of what would become an increasingly patriarchal system.
But the times are changing. The memory of the Great Goddess in all her manifestations is rising from the shadows.
In my case, that marginal inscription sent me on an intense research journey. I later discovered that before the ancient Greek history that we know, Delphi had indeed been a site of worship of Gaia, the Mother Goddess.
It is believed that the root of the word “Delphi” means “womb”, attesting to the direct connection of this site with the female creative energy, the power of the Great Mother Goddess, the one who brings life into being.
As for the Oracles, which later came to be associated with Apollo, they were none other than priestesses attuned to the wisdom of life, who spoke the voice of the Earth for all to hear and heed.
Intuitively, I understood they were a model we could follow. An inspiration for all of us today…
I returned again and again to sit by the circular shrine, attune my being to the stillness, and listen to Gaia’s wisdom, whispered in the silence.
I invite you to do the same.
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