Mini Encyclopedia of EcoSexuality – The Gaia Hypothesis (2 of 3)
Entry: The Gaia Hypothesis
Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio, PhD
2. The Name: Origins, Implications, Connotations
The Gaia Hypothesis takes its name from Gaia, also known as Gea, a Greek deity symbolizing the ancient notion of the Earth. From Gea we get the word geography: the art and science of mapping out the ecosystemic elements, designs, and forces that make up the surface of the Earth and affect its dynamic balance. Gaia was the Hellenic version of an embodied feminine deity whose representations are observed in archeological findings of the Neolithic Age around the Mediterranean. Gea represented the sovereign power of the feminine among the forager groups of the Neolithic. She was also present among those who transitioned to agriculture while still maintaining matrifocal values and egalitarian, symbiotic organizations, including Crete, Lydia, Lesbos, Catal Huyuk, and Asia Minor in general. This deity was imagined as connected with the Chthonic powers of terrestrial energies: sources of ecstasy, magic, fertility, and love.
In classical Greek mythology Gaia was considered part of the first generation of Greek deities. The Titans included Aeolus for the winds, Uranus for the sky, Cronus for time, Eros for the force of love, and others. They represented the sovereign powers of nature and were not as personified as the subsequent generation of deities known as the Olympian Gods. A later version of Gaia is Demeter, who is more personified as was typical of Olympian deities. According to classical Greek legend, Demeter was the goddess of harvest and Earth. When losing her daughter Persephone, Demeter became sterile for six months of the year. This ended the golden age of eternal spring and marked the beginning of the age of seasons. The Roman versions for Demeter and Persephone are Ceres and Proserpina respectively. From Ceres we get the word cereals: as in staple foods like wheat and other grains that wean us from mother’s milk and get our bodies to grow into adulthood.
In a gender and sexuality perspective, the Gaia Hypothesis corresponds to a semantic reconfiguration of what is commonly known as “nature” as an entity capable of what is known in French as jouissance, or erotic enjoyment beyond genders. The idea of using Gaia as a name for this paradigmatic scientific hypothesis came to James Lovelock from the novelist William Golding, a Nobel Laureate in Literature familiar with the Classical world. Golding most probably knew the connotations of the name better than Lovelock. In Latin, Gaia is a female personal name correlative to the male Gaius (as in Gaius Julius Caesar). In both grammatical genders, the name means s/he who is cheerful, happy, joyful, and capable of enjoyment. The name is related to the Latin noun gaudio which refers to the act of enjoying, including sexual enjoyment and orgasm. In Italian the connectedness between these ancient meanings has been conserved, with Gaia used as a female name meaning gay (in the original sense): joyful, cheerful; and with godere as the verb most commonly used to refer to the act of sexual climax, or jouissance, as it is called in French. In English the continuity between Gaia and enjoyment is represented by the overlap between the current and conventional meanings of the word gay. As the scientific hypothesis was named, these sexualized connotations were probably part of the discursive awareness of those involved in the process. While they were not intended as primary connotations, they still bring an entirely new twist to the interpretation of nature the Gaia Hypothesis involves.
To be continued . . . . come back next week, same time.
Sending much love and all good wishes to all of you and your loved ones. Thanks you for listening and opening up. Stay tuned for more coming. With all good wishes for a happy end of winter, spring, and summer. Thank you!
Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio, PhD
Author of Gaia, Eros, and many other books about love
Professor of Humanities, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez
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