Gaia ("land" or "earth", also spelled Ge or Gaea) in Greek mythology embodies the fertility of the Earth. Behind particular aspects of the three-fold goddess, stands the pre-Indo-European Great Mother, a nurturing goddess of death and birth, who was venerated from Neolithic times in the ancient Near East and the Aegean cultural sphere, as far as Malta and the Etruscan lands. Some anthropologists and members of certain religions believe the same divine spirit appeared under many names. These names are said to include Demeter (Roman Ceres) the "mother", Persephone the "daughter" or Hecate the "crone." She could be identified as Rhea. In Anatolia (modern Turkey) she was Cybele. The Greeks never forgot that her ancient home was Crete, where she had always been worshipped as Potnia Theron, the "Mistress of the Animals" or simply Potnia.

The coming of the Olympian gods with immigrants into the Aegean during the 2nd millennium BCE, and the sometimes violent struggle to supplant Gaia, inform Greek mythology with its characteristic tension. Echoes of Gaia's power lingered into the mythology of classical Greece, where her roles were divided among Zeus' consort Hera, Apollo's twin and consort Artemis, and Athena.

Unlike Zeus, a roving nomad god of the open sky, Gaia was manifest in enclosed spaces: the house, the courtyard, the womb, the cave. Her sacred animals are the snake, the lunar bull, the pig, and bees. In her hand the narcotic poppy may be transmuted to a pomegranate. Though she is complete in herself, the Triple Goddess often takes a male consort.

She was the daughter of Chaos, or according to another version Aether and Hemera, and the mother of Uranus (also her husband), Ourea and Pontus. Uranus and Pontus were born of Gaia alone, without a father.

Only a distant echo of Gaia's primal power is to be found in her Roman equivalent, Magna Mater, who was most strongly identified by Romans with Cybele.

Table of contents
1 Gaia in Greek mythology
2 Gaia in modern ecological theory
3 References

Gaia in Greek mythology

With Uranus, Gaia had three sets of children: one-hundred armed giants called Hecatonchires and one-eyed giants called Cyclopes were the youngest, and significantly later, the Titans. Occasionally, the Erinyes were considered a fourth set of children by Gaia and Uranus.

Uranus hid the (Hecatonchires) and the Cyclopes in Tartarus so that they would not see the light, rejoicing in this evil doing. This caused pain to Gaia (Tartarus was her bowels) so she created grey flint (or adamantine) and shaped a great sickle and gathered together Cronus and his brothers to ask them to obey her. Only Cronus was willing to do the deed, so Gaia gave him the sickle and set him in ambush. Cronus jumped out and lopped off his father's testicles, casting them behind him. From his blood on the Earth came forth the Gigantes, Erinyes and Meliae. From the testicles of Uranus in the sea came forth Aphrodite. For this, Uranus called his sons Titans, meaning "strainers" for they strained and did presumptuously a fearful deed, for which vengeance would come afterwards.

After Uranus' castration, Gaia gave birth to Echidna and (sometimes) Typhon by Tartarus. By Pontus, Gaia birthed Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto and Eurybia.

As Uranus had been deposed by his son, Cronus, so was Cronus destined to be overthrown by his son. To prevent this, he swallowed his children as soon as they were born. Gaia gave Cronus' wife, Rhea the idea to save the last child, Zeus, by giving Cronus a stone wrapped up like a baby. Gaia then raised Zeus (according to some versions of the story), who eventually rescued his brothers and sisters, eaten by Cronus, as well as releasing the Cyclopes, Hecatonchires and Gigantes from Tartarus. Together, Zeus and his allies overthrew Cronus.

When Apollo killed Gaia's child, Python, she punished him by sending him to King Admetus as a shepherd for nine years.

Zeus hid one lover, Elara, from Hera by hiding her under the earth. His son by Elara, the giant Tityas, is therefore sometimes said to be a son of Gaia, the earth goddess, and Elara.

Gaia made Aristaeus immortal.

Gaia was the original deity behind the Oracle at Delphi. She passed her powers on to, depending on the source: Poseidon, Apollo or Themis.

Consorts/Children of Gaia

Gaia in modern ecological theory

The mythological name was revived in 1969 by James Lovelock for his Gaia hypothesis, which was later developed by Lynn Margulis into a Gaia theory. The hypothesis proposes that living organisms and inorganic material are part of a dynamic system that shapes the Earth's biosphere. Earth itself is viewed as an organism with self-regulatory functions.

The theme behind the movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within adapts this philosophy of Gaia, which is also embraced within parts of the New Age and movement, and by some environmentalists.


Carl A.P. Ruck and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth, 1994.