Oftentimes when we think of motherhood, we think of love, nurture, generosity, acceptance and more qualities that capture the same emotional rhythm. Although motherly tendencies are often innately built-in, it takes a full-fledged mother to properly nurture younger women, walking them through the rites of passage into womanhood and motherhood.
Venerated since the dawn of time for the unstoppable force that she is, one mother continues to nourish everything that lives, giving birth to life and hope alike —herein, I speak of no other than Mother Nature.
Derived from the Latin word natura which holds several meanings varying from essence to instinct and birth giving, nature was initially used in the English language around 1266 AD. However, the term Mother Nature was first coined in Ancient Greece, gaining wide popularity in the Middle Ages. Today, Mother Nature is defined, according to Merriam Webster, as “nature personified as a woman considered as the source and guiding force of creation.”
Mother Nature in World Mythology
For as far as recorded history takes roots, storytelling has been a common means of simplifying what would otherwise be complex, packaging it into enthralling stories through which knowledge and wisdom are passed. Today, such stories are often referred to as folktales and mythology — home to many of Mother Nature’s earliest appearances.
In Greek mythology, Mother Nature was known and even worshiped as Gaea, the goddess of earth and one of the deities born at the dawn of creation, only coming second to the birth of chaos. From Gaea, everything came to life including the gods of Olympus, the Giants, Titans and even mortal beings.
Meanwhile in Ancient Roman mythology, Mother Nature was known and revered as Tellus Mater or Terra Mater who was considered as one of the 12 agriculture deities, as well as one of the di selecti, or the 20 principle gods of Rome who are at large a crossover between Greek and Roman cultures.
Across the world where nature was centric to wisdom and knowledge, the Native American culture was home to several stories and interpretations of Mother Nature. Among the most common Ojibwe traditional stories is that of Nokomis, the Native American earth goddess who, unlike her counterparts around the world, is rather seen as a grandmother than a mother — the grandmother of all Earth Mothers.
Her story tells of the young and beautiful love goddess, daughter of the moon, who used to swing from heavens until the other goddesses, jealous of her beauty, cut off the ropes she swung from. As she battled to survive her fall to the primordial ocean, she became pregnant, bearing life to all that lives today and turning to what is today Earth.
Although the Native American culture stems far back into history, it still lives on in parts of the US and Canada where the living descendants continue to give life to their ancestors’ wisdom, folklore and mythology.
Similar to the North American culture, South America was home to the naturalistic and ritualistic Andean cultures which include, but are not exclusive to the Incan civilization. Worshiped alongside creator god Pachacamac (or in other stories, Inti, the Incan sun god), Pachamama was considered the universal Andean earth goddess who was revered across the Andes long before the Incas. Unlike other depictions of Mother Nature across the world, Pachamama often took the form of a serpent or dragon that protects the crops.
According to the Quechua and their mythology, Pachamama was worshiped as the deity of the land and its fertility — the source that provides all, and to which all returns. Today, some of the modern Quechuas associate Pachamama with Virgin Mary.
From a serpent-like guardian of the crops to the guardian of Buddha himself, Mother Nature shifts forms across the world whereby she reappears in Buddhist mythology as Phra Mae Thorani, bearing the same literal meaning of Mother Earth or Mother Nature.
Seen in Buddhist shrines and temples across Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and other countries, Phra Mae Thorani is depicted as a beautiful young woman wringing her hair to force water to pour out of it. Legend has it that one day as Siddhārtha Gautama was meditating under the Bodhi tree, Mara, the demon was sent to disrupt his pursuits of enlightenment by tempting him with his daughters, alongside a demon army of animals which scared away the protective gods who surrounded Gautama.
Left alone to face Mara and his army, Gautama pointed the fingers of his right hands towards earth, summoning Mae Thorani who then wrung her hair, causing gushing floods of water to drown Mara and his army, clearing the way for Gautama to reach Nirvana and become known as Buddha.
While these deities may be the closest personifications to nature in the figure of Mother Nature or Mother Earth, nature worship is home to a much longer list of deities which embody more specific forces of nature varying from life and death to fertility, water, fire, sky, harvest and crops, animals and more. Some of the mythologies which incorporated nature worship include African, Baltic, Aztec, Chinese, Japanese, Mayan, Slavic, Egyptian and many others.
Mother Nature in Modern Societies
Besides neopaganism, many of the mythological deities depicting Mother Nature are no longer as widely or commonly worshiped in our modern times. Nonetheless, nature remains venerated across the world mostly through science, research and activism.
Although the human race has contributed in various ways to the destruction and disruption of Earth’s biosphere and ecosystems, the industrial revolution and its subsequent developments bear the greatest responsibility towards the poor global environmental status that lingers on today.
Prior to the modern environmentalism movement which saw the peak of its glory in the 1960s and 1970s, the early decades of the 20th century stood witness to conservationism, a movement that, at its heart, called for wise and efficient use and consumption of natural resources. Although modern environmentalism does not entirely rule out the goals of preservationism, its agenda grew more diverse and global, shedding light on pollution, toxic waste, the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming.
Realizing the grave impact that pollution has on our lives and our planet, environmental activism took various forms that manifested not only in social movements but politics as well. Among the most recognizable environmental social movements is Earth Day which was first orchestrated on April 22nd, 1970, seeing an astounding 100,000 participants take to the streets of New York City to show their support to the planet, and drive attention to the grave repercussions of the multi-faceted pollution crisis.
Inspite of the efforts dedicated to raising awareness of the environmental crisis and its growing gravity, it is baffling that some key political figures today still undermine such issues as global warming and whether they are true.
Revered Motherhood and Sacred Femininity
Unlike the patriarchal era which has mostly treated Earth and its natural resources with nothing but greed and exploitation, the rise of the feminine is believed to witness a shift away from consumerism and materialism and more towards equality, justice and balance.
In the meantime while environmental activists stand up for Mother Earth, a new wave of interest investigates the connection between the spiritual awakening of women and nature, a space where more women reconcile with their true, innate selves. The connection between the feminine and nature is candid upon merely inspecting their natural life/death/life cycles — a cycle that involves far more than their physical life, growth and death, but rather that of their creative, emotional and spiritual lives where death only means the birth of something new.
In pursuit of enlightenment, truth and feminine consciousness, more women continue to find inspiration, power and soulful nurture in the divine feminine, the Great Mother.
“I think going down the path of the Sacred Feminine has taught me to look at women and mothers very differently,” says author, radio host and priestess Rev. Karen Tate, “I began to understand the sacredness of woman and motherhood and all phases of a woman’s life.
“I learned mothers are not just women who birth flesh and blood children. Mothers birth ideas, movements, books, organizations and companies, and the birthing pains of that labor also makes them a sacred creatrix. Mothers are the hands that rock the cradles that will change the world.”