I can clearly remember the first time I saw what would eventually become my Goddess representation. I was still in high school–the early years, maybe 1998 or 1999 as I was not yet driving–and one afternoon I wandered into the closest thing my tiny town had to a witch shop: Gaia Natural Foods. In addition to some tofus, yogurts, and all the vitamins and supplements a person could ever want, the proprietor also stocked some things I used in my witchy ways: chime candles, oils, incense, and so on. I had probably gone in that day to pick up a few more candles and noticed that in a nook behind the register they’d installed a little corner shelf and had made a shrine surrounding this small sculpture of a cross-legged pregnant woman whose belly was the earth.
It was gorgeous.
The cashier saw me staring at the shrine and mentioned that the statue was of Gaia, and so of course had to have a home in the shop. I remember asking if it was for sale or if they had plans to carry them, and the cashier replied that no, she was just to watch over the business. I remember being so disappointed, for by that time–a time before Internet shopping–I’d learned that if you saw an occult item in a store that called to you, you snapped it up as soon as you could because it wasn’t like the stores stocked dozens more in the back room. I thought I’d never see this Gaia again, and I knew that this image was just about as close to what I felt the Goddess would look like as it got. I was so, so sad.
Now that sadness seems silly, not only because “The Great God Internet” can get us the hook up in just a few minutes, but because this sculpture turned out to be Oberon Zell’s “Millennial Gaia”. Zell considers this to be his masterwork, and I think a big portion of the pagan community agrees, for she is definitely a popular representation and continues to sell very well. In fact, I noticed when I went to this year’s Pantheacon (and got to meet Zell himself, which was so cool for me!) that he’s begun offering a cold-cast bronze version of her in addition to the painted resin one, though the bronze one has yet to be offered online. He’s also turned her into a plaque, so there must have been demand for that, too. She’s also often found for sale in non-Pagan places; for example, she’s in the yoga company Gaiam’s catalog.
Eventually, I did happen upon Gaia in another local store–Camp Chesterfield’s Tree of Life bookstore. This would have been in 2000, as I had just gotten my driver’s license and used that newfound independence to visit places my parents would never take me. I remember that they were selling her for $80, and I didn’t have that kind of cash to spend. I went back to Chesterfield to see her every couple of weeks for several months and she was still there. One day I saw they’d dropped her price to $55, and–even though that was still a lot of money for me to be spending at the time–I figured it would never be better than that. I also had exactly $60 dollars in my wallet: just enough to cover her price, the sales tax, and still get a couple gallons of gas…which was averaging about $1.25 back then.
So think for a minute about what I just said. A fourteen year old girl was so captivated by this figure that she watched for it for two years and eventually spent all her discretionary savings to buy it. In case you don’t know, 14-16 year old girls have the attention span of a gnat and covet money more than anything else. The impact Gaia had on me was incomprehensibly huge.
So what is it about her that’s just so captivating?
Well, for me she’s a reminder of the simultaneous immanence and transcendence of deity, and that is a huge part of my spirituality. This statue is made of all the parts of the world. Not only is the planet her pregnant belly (with her navel centered on Delphi), but her arms, legs, and hair are covered with the story of all the planet’s life. On her left ankle, we can see a single cell next to one undergoing mitotic division and a pair of parameciums. Across both her calves one can see the first creatures of sea life–a trilobite and a lamprey, jelly fish and a nautilus, a giant squid and a plesiosaur. As you progress past her knees to her thighs and buttocks, the sea creatures segue into contemporary beasts: marlins, whales, dolphins, manta rays, sharks, turtles, manatees and otters.
It’s no accident that the closer you get to the base of her spine, the more mammals can be found. The entire back of the goddess is covered by her hair, which is a mass of leaves in which a bunch of coils are entwined and various animals are inset. These coils represent DNA, and they form a phylogenetic tree of life. At the base of it all is the creature who walked out of the water, and it soon branches into amphibia, reptilia/avis, and mammalia. Further down the tree are the animals which have gone extinct: dinosaurs, saber tooth tigers, etc. The closer and closer you get to her crown and to the front edge of her hair, the more extant the animals become and the “more sophisticated” they get. For example, the human line shows some sort of prehistoric rat creature becoming a monkey becoming a gorilla becoming man, who sits at the very crown of the statue next to a blue whale: the world’s largest animal.
The front of the goddess’s hair prominently displays leaves from the fifteen sacred Celtic trees framing her face and arms, and tucked within them are important flowers (a rose, daisy, hibiscus flower, poppy, and morning glory with a hummingbird feeding from it), and sacred insects: a scarab, a spider, and a dragonfly as well as a silver Luna moth to represent the moon and a gold Monarch butterfly to represent the sun. Each of the goddess’s nourishing breasts has a different theme, as well. Her right breast is a green and gold cornucopia a fruits and vegetables, while her left breast–or her heart–is the silver moon, which provides the planet’s regular pulse. Where the goddess’s legs depicted the evolution of the sea, her arms depict the evolution of the forests. The wrists of her right arm depict simple flowers and fungi, and they unfold to show the giant sequoia trees on her upper arm. Her left arm shows ferns and small palms which similarly spring up to show a rainforest: the planet’s lungs. Her face is an amalgam of all the human races.
The goddess is each of these wonderful things throughout time, and this is what reminds me of her immanence. She is me as I am her, and she is all that I can see as all of it is her. And yet, all of these parts come together to form the shape of one pregnant woman that is apart from all the components: the one that transcends them all even while they remain a part of her. That simultaneous nature of divinity is so essential to my beliefs that I would not be able to be a believer without it, and I think that this sculpture does the best job I’ve seen at trying to visually represent this belief.