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Mother Earth, Mother Goddess, Mother Nature, through the prism of art and history

Gaia- and- colibri- dark- purple

Mother Earth, Mother Goddess, Mother Nature, through the prism of art and history

The era of the Homo sapiens- the beginning of all

Neanderthal -man

Neanderthal, reconstruction by Élisabeth Daynès

The era of the Homo sapiens  , the ‘wise man’, heralds the emergence of archetypal symbols; though it is often overlooked, the archetypes introduced by primitive man have indelibly marked the consequent evolution of our species.   Regardless of the development of diverse races and peoples with their respective mentality, traditions, moral codes and norms, many of these archetypes remain, unaltered, in many cultures, shaping people’s perceptions over the ages. 

Cro-Magnon hunter

Élisabeth Daynès – Reconstruction of a Cro-Magnon hunter based on a 30,000 year old fossil found at Eyzies-de-Tayac in France.

This is most evident when one examines each culture’s religious traditions, which had a powerful influence on all aspects of their lives. Inspired by nature, the primordial deity worshiped by primitive man was Mother Earth. 

Figuring in most mythological traditions, Mother Earth is one of the principle and most revered divinities, the wellspring from which all other things originate and are nourished, till the moment when they will be called to return to her womb, having run their earthly course.

 

 

 

Mother Goddess- mythogical traditions and religions

In the vast majority of mythological traditions, the eternal cycle of prolificacy brought forth the first Gods. As depicted in Ancient Greek mythology, the mighty Uranus ruled as consort to Mother Earth, Gaia , his domed presence embracing her vast expanses. 

Gaia- and- colibri

Gaia   painting on leaf by Olga Kotsirea

Over time, in the farrago of mythic imagination,her traits came gradually to be attributed to a variety of newborn goddesses, according to the traditions of each culture. Though, inevitably, the influence of the female goddesses often tended to beovershadowed by that of their male counterparts, Mother Earth, and the archetypes she was symbolic of, did not share the fate of other gods, who were lost to obscurity. Even when she was pushed aside and demoted as patriarchal elements gradually gained supremacy in the majority of cultural and mythological traditions, neither nature nor its reproductive qualities ceased to inspire respect, awe, and even fear in humans, whenever her power burst cataclysmically forth. For that which primitive man most powerfully perceived of her, thus deifying her, was the undeniable and inescapable force of the natural world. Each and every human being, just as all creation- from the tiny, ethereal butterfly to the imposing, extinct mammoth, from the smallest grain of sand to the dwarfing mountain ranges rising from the depths of the seas’ abyss- all, were and will always be, inherently bound to the power of Mother Nature.

Mother Earth’s primitive idols- the first steps in art

Mother- earth- primitive- idols

Venus of Willedorff- Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

The ways in which primitive man chose to worship nature have been lost in the lethe of time. However, certain works of art have survived, dating back as early as the Paleolithic period. Idols of Mother Earth have been found in various European countries, depicting the goddess as a voluptuous woman, symbolizing fertility, reproduction, and nurturing.  Most anthropologists maintain that these idols are indicative that the goddess was the object of worship in primitive societies. This theory has yet to be refuted, and perhaps may never be. Regardless of the advances and discoveries in anthropological studies, it is undeniable that primitive man uncovered a metaphysical world, and art served as a ‘vehicle’ by which he expressed his connection to the divine.

Renaissance –  the “rebirth” of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations in  intellect, literature and art’s worlds 

Florence

Florence the crandle of the Renaissance- Photo Art by Mandy

As civilization progressed, art adapted to new circumstances, and was used in the worship of polytheistic religions. This continued after the spread of Christianity, which gradually prevailed in Europe and in other parts of the world. The considerable cultural changes which this brought about overshadowed the old gods and myths, yet, never succeeded in eliminating their influence entirely.

This may be confirmed when observing the customs of various civilizations, deeply rooted in history. The structure and values of ancient civilizations failed to influence the spiritual and intellectual world of Christian communities, up until the  Renaissance

Venus

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli ( 1445 – 1510) – Uffizi, Florence.

Amongst other things, the renewed interest and study of the classics, in particular those of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, greatly influenced the cultural life of the peoples of Europe. This cultural wave, which brought ancient civilizations together with their gods and myths back to the fore, was a source of great inspiration for the art world. Since then, these gods and myths have continued to be an inspiration in all areas of art. The beauty of nature always constituted a source of aesthetical inspiration, but its representation as a feminine goddess once again became a subject which attracted many artists.

Knowledge and art

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Caves- the “wombs” of Mother Earth, photo by Ilias Kotsireas

Primitive people without doubt set the primeval foundations for the subsequent route of humanity.   The awareness of their dependence on nature for their survival and their thirst to understand it formed the driving force that gradually led peoples to explorations and the organized production of goods, to constructions and inventions. It is equally certain that since the beginning of human kind the hunger for knowledge walked hand in hand with the yearning for art, which operated as a bridge, bonding with its works the visible world and its creatures with the invisible world of gods and fables. The true comprehension of nature’s laws and structures demanded that man should harness his imagination. On the other hand, wishing to attribute originality and beauty to their creations, artists gave free rein to their imagination.

According to the domain each art served, the materials used were of great variety, as new means of expression were constantly discovered. Minerals, metals, earthy and stony colors, clay and plants, animal skins and fruits, wood and leaves were some materials of the past used to this day. The history of art with all its expressions is a wonderful puzzle that uniquely depicts the singularities of peoples and their civilizations, revealing at the same time the individual mark of all the artists, who in overwhelming majority were anonymous.  Many works surely were lost or destroyed during art’s long history, but the flame of creative expression was never burned out by the ravages of time. Today also, it is equally strong with the flame that thousands of years ago urged the primitive man to create the figurines of Mother Earth and paint nature’s creatures in various caves  in the world. Sometimes, they also left their handprints on the cave walls as a mention of their existence.

By Virginie Montet – This Smithsonian National Museum of Natural history handout photo shows a 30,000 year old handprint from Chauvet Cave in France

 

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