Joseph Werner - Diana of Ephesus as allegory of Nature - ca. 1680

Joseph Werner: Diana of Ephesus as allegory of Nature, c. 1680

Mother Nature (sometimes known as Mother Earth or the Earth-Mother) is a common personification of nature that focuses on the life-giving and nurturing aspects of nature by embodying it in the form of the mother.

Western tradition history

Atalanta Fugiens - Emblem 2d

Mother Nature image, 17th century alchemical text

The word nature comes from the Latin word, natura, meaning birth or character. In English its first recorded use, in the sense of the entirety of the phenomena of the world, was very late in history in 1266; however natura, and the personification of Mother Nature, was widely popular in the Middle Ages and as a concept seated between the properly divine and the human, it can be traced to Ancient Greece - though Earth or Eorthe in the Old English period may have been personified as a goddess and the Norse also had a goddess called Jord Earth.

The earliest written and safely dated literal references to the term "Mother Earth" occur in Mycenaean Greek ma-ka (transliterated as ma-ga), "Mother Gaia", written in Linear B syllabic script (13th or 12th century BCE).[1] The various myths of nature goddesses such as Inanna/Ishtar (myths and hymns attested on Mesopotamian tablets as early as the 3rd millennium BC) show that the personification of the creative and nurturing sides of Nature as female deities had deep roots. In Greece, the pre-Socratic philosophers had "invented" nature when they abstracted the entirety of phenomena of the world as singular: physis, and this was inherited by Aristotle. Later medieval Christian thinkers did not see nature as inclusive of everything, but thought that she had been created by God; her place lay on earth, below the unchanging heavens and moon. Nature lay somewhere in the centre, with agents above her (angels) and below her (demons and hell). For the medieval mind she was only a personification, not a goddess.

Greek myth

Aion mosaic Glyptothek Munich W504

Aion (Chronos), Gaia and four children

In Greek mythology, Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest, was abducted by Hades, god of the dead, and taken to the underworld as his queen. Demeter was so distraught that no crops would grow and the "entire human race [would] have perished of cruel, biting hunger if Zeus had not been concerned" (Larousse 152). Zeus forced Hades to return Persephone to her mother, but while in the underworld, Persephone had eaten pomegranate seeds, the food of the dead and thus, she must spend part of each year with Hades in the underworld. Demeter's grief for her daughter in the realm of the dead, is reflected in the barren winter months and her joy when Persephone returns is reflected in the bountiful summer months.

Demeter would take the place of her grandmother, Gaia, and her mother, Rhea, as goddess of the earth in a time when humans and gods thought the activities of the heavens more sacred than those of earth.[2]

Leeming, Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia

The Enlightenment

Enlightenment beliefs rooted themselves in reason and logic.[3] The leaders of Enlightenment believed that the knowledge must be widely known and must be pondered. However, nature was analogous to God and could not be examined. The believers and leaders of Enlightenment had to separate nature from God. This led to the feminization of nature, the creation of the word: Mother Nature. Boyle suggested that examination of man is an examination of God. Therefore, nature had to be converted to woman, "a great...pregnant automation" to be examined.[4] Bacon suggests that a man must inquisite truth through penetrating into these holes and corners, a sexual metaphor that feminizes nature. When nature was feminized and degraded, Carolyn Merchant suggests that it made possible for people to exploit and study it.[5] Hence, the words "mother nature" come into play. These scientists utilized sexual metaphors to create a feminized nature - mother nature - so that it could be studied and exploited.

Indigenous peoples of the Americas

Algonquian legend says that "beneath the clouds lives the Earth-Mother from whom is derived the Water of Life, who at her bosom feeds plants, animals and human" [6] She is also known as Nokomis, the Grandmother.

In Inca mythology, Mama Pacha or Pachamama is a fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting. Pachamama is usually translated as "Mother Earth" but a more literal translation would be "Mother Universe" (in Aymara and Quechua mama = mother / pacha = world, space-time or the universe).[7] Pachamama and her husband, Inti are the most benevolent deities and are worshiped in parts of the Andean mountain ranges, also known as Tawantinsuyu (stretching from present day Ecuador to Chile and Argentina).

Southeast Asia

In the Southeast Asian Indochina countries of Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, earth (terra firma) is personified as Phra Mae Thorani, but her role in Buddhist mythology differs considerably from that of Mother Nature. In the Malay Archipelago, that role is filled by Dewi Sri, the Rice Mother in the East Indies.[8]

See also


  1. Palaeolexicon, Word study tool of ancient languages
  2. Leeming, David Adams (2010). Creation Myths of the World: An Encyclopedia. 1 (2 (revised, illustrated) ed.). ABC-CLIO. p. 118. ISBN 978-1-59884-174-9. 
  3. Brians, Paul. "The Enlightenment". 
  4. Keller, Evelyn (2001). The Gender and Science Reader. Routledge. pp. 98–110. 
  5. Merchant, Carolyn (2001). The Gender and Science Reader. Routledge. pp. 68–81. 
  6. Larousse 428. (8)
  7. Lira, Jorge A., 1944 Diccionario Kkechuwa - Español. Tucumán, Argentina
  8. The Rice-mother in the East Indies
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Mother Nature. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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