An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 60The Earth-Mother, then, would be practically universal.[Pg 134] We should expect to find her everywhere, and indeed we do. In the Vedic hymns the earth is the bride of Dyaus; in Greece she was known as Gæa. Bacchus or Dionysus is certainly a deity with an earth connexion. In Mexico more than one god was connected with the earth—for example, Tepeyollotl, usually worshipped in a cavern, and a god of earthquakes. The name signifies 'Heart of the Mountain' and evidently has a seismic meaning. In the worship of Centeotl, the maize-god, there was a ceremony called the Niticapoloa, or 'Tasting of the Soil,' consisting in raising a little earth on one finger to the mouth and eating it, thus achieving communion with the earth-god. The Spanish conquerors left it on record that the soil was in reality tasted, and not merely placed to the lips. Like the Babylonians, the Aztecs sometimes painted the Earth-Mother as a woman with countless breasts; the Peruvians called her Mama Allpa, 'Mother Earth,' and the Caribs addressed her as Mama Nono, 'the Good Mother from whom all things come.' In the dialect of the Algonquin Indians the word for 'earth' is derived from the same root as those for 'mother' and 'father,' but the Western Algonquin tribes call her Nokomis, 'My grandmother.' The Passes of Brazil believed that the earth was a great creature, that the rivers and streams were its blood-vessels, and that it circled round the sun, turning first one and then the other of its sides toward that luminary in order to keep itself warm—not a bad guess for the early scientist to make! In some parts of Europe we find the small progeny of the dwarfs connected with the cult of earth.
These teeming animistic spirits are not confined to Europe, however. An earth-goddess in German tradition is the benignant Holda, who preserves the life of the winter-bound world under a mantle of snow.
A group of interesting earth-deities were known to Latin Italy. Ops, a goddess of wealth and fertility, the wife of Saturnus, corresponded to the Greek Rhea. The Latin genii were also closely akin to the dryads and hamadryads of the Greeks, who inhabited groves and trees. Pilumnus and Picumnus too were worshipped as rural deities, but they seem to have had a more agricultural than terrestrial significance,[Pg 135] Pomona was the Latin goddess of fruit-trees and their fruits, and Fauna and Faunus were also rural deities. The satyrs in Greece were cognate types.
Before agriculture proper with its especial pantheon was evolved the forces of fertility may have received a considerable amount of adoration and were probably in some measure connected with the spirit of earth. Rites innumerable were carried out to secure the revival of vegetation in spring, most of them having for object the rejuvenation of nature. In some instances trees, and in others human beings, were sacrificed. Such gods, for example, as Adonis, who was worshipped in Western Asia, Osiris, and Attys represented the decay and revival of vegetation. Much of their ritual is still performed by the peasantry of all parts of Europe, and has been collected by the labours of Mannhardt and Sir James Frazer. It may be interesting to give here an account of such an observance which came beneath the writer's own notice.