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Gaia, the Titans, and the First Gods

Gaia and her son Polybotes with Poseidon


Gaia with dancing Panes or satyroi

The War of the Giants, c.5th cent. BC: Gaia rises from the Earth as Poseidon fights her son, the giant Polybotes, in the war against the gods. Poseidon ripped off part of the island of Kos, and using it, Nisyros, as a missile, crushed Polybotes under it.

Gaia with dancing Panes, c.5th cent. BC: Gaia rising from the earth is welcomed by Satyroi, or Satyrs, symbolizing the fertility of mother earth. This scene is pictured on an Athenian red figure Skyphos, a deep drinking cup with two handles and a low foot.

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In the beginning was Khaos (Chaos), the shapeless, disordered mass that was the universe before the creation of living beings. Out of Chaos arose the primordial gods: Gaia, Tartarus, Eros, Erebus, Nyx and Eurynome. Of these the only well-defined, anthropomorphic divinity was Gaia, the Earth-goddess from whom all things issued. Pre-Hellenic, even Paleolithic, Gaia was often depicted half-risen from the Earth, unable to completely separate herself from her element. She gave birth parthenogenetically, without any male help, to the Sea (Pontus), the Mountains (Ourea), and the Sky (Ouranus). Then mating with her son Uranus she gave birth to the 12 Titans (gigantic one-eyed monsters also called the Cyclopes), and three even more terrible monsters known as the Hecatonchires, each having 50 heads and 100 arms.

Here the various mythologies diverge slightly. One account has it that disgusted by or fearful of his monstrous children, Uranus imprisoned the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes in Tartarus forever. Since this was part of the Earth (Gaia’s very bowels), Gaia found her children’s presence again in her body painful, and conceived a plan to end both Uranus’ passions and more monstrous offspring. She asked all of her children for help, but only the youngest, Kronos, agreed.

Gaia created an adamantine sickle for him, and he hid under their bed with it. When Uranus came to lie with her again, Kronos cut off his genitals with one sweep of the sickle! (The Titans and Kronos are continued here.) From the blood that fell to Earth/Gaia, the Erinyes (the Furies: avenging spirits of retributive justice), the Giants, and the Meliae (nymphs of the manna ash tree) were born. From the blood that fell into the sea, or perhaps from the genitals themselves that Kronos tossed there, Aphrodite/Venus was born from the foam ("Aphrodite" means "foam-born" in Greek). Thus the Earth (Gaia) was separated from the sky (Uranus), a body-mind schism that still pervades Western culture. Being the primordial element from which all the gods originated, Gaia was universally worshipped, but later went into decline and was replaced by other gods.

The patriarchal takeover of the oracle at Delphi, originally sacred to Gaia but later claimed by Apollo, is recounted thus. Rhea, Gaia's daughter, created the great snake Python who coiled around the omphalos (navel) at Delphi. He guarded the sacred divinatory Castalian spring and shared oracular knowledge with the Pythia, Gaia's priestesses. When one of these priestesses, Daphne, was pursued by Apollo, Gaia changed her into a laurel tree to escape from him. Apollo's subsequent slaying of Python completed the allegorical transformation from matriarchal to patriarchal power. Originally considered a charm against evil, the laurel wreath was later used to crown warriors and artists as a symbol of victory, and was also worn by Apollo himself, thereby completing the transformation.

This Gaia and the First Gods page and much of this 600-page website are excerpted from the personalized Fine Art Book You and the Universe.

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