Monday, September 2, 2013

Goddesses in the Dust: Eileithyia, The Goddess of Labor

Unearthing the divine feminine, one archetype at a time...

The first time I learned the meaning of this word I lived in Greece.

Eileithyia: It's how you cry for help.

So it wasn't much of a surprise when I found out it also was the name of a Goddess. These Greeks, they have a goddess for everything - and Eileithyia is the goddess of labor and delivery.

Today is Labor Day. What does that really mean? According to the United States Department of Labor (if there ever was a site that would be the authority, this would be it) "Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom and leadership - the American worker."

The word labor has several definitions - number one is: Physical or mental exertion, especially when difficult or exhausting work. At the bottom of the list, number seven states: The process by which childbirth occurs, beginning with the contractions of the uterus and ending with the expulsion of the fetus or infant and the placenta.

Eileithyia's Roman counterpart was Lucina, or light bringer, and the Italian verb for to give birth is dare alla luce - to give to the light. In ancient Greece, the goddess Eileithyia had a cult center located at Amnisos in Crete; a cave where archaeologists have found figurines of women, animals and other objects representing gifts from women petitioning the goddess for a child. 

The word Amnisos may ring a bell for a word in the English language: it is the root for amniotic, as in the amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus in the womb. Since ancient times, caves have represented places of fertility and birth, so it is fitting that the goddess of labor would find her home in the womb of the earth. 

All meanings of the word labor involve intense, difficult and often - painful - work; and - particularly in the case of childbirth - it is easy to understand how the word eileithyia became a cry for help. Today we honor all those who work, putting their efforts into a worthy goal, and remember the words of Martin Luther King:

                     All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance            
        and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence

and Sophocles:

                     Without labor nothing prospers



15 comments:

  1. etymology is fascinating. the network of words and their derivatives somehow creates thread work that is mysterious and leads to me questioning what came first, the meaning (being) or the word, or was there a simultaneous birth to all things?

    xo
    erin

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    1. i've been fascinated by the origin of things since i was little as well, which is probably why i became an archaeologist. as with the earth, in language there is a satisfaction from digging deeper and deeper to find the root of things.

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  2. ineresting ethymology of the word. In Polish language no such relations

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  3. Eileithyia: how many syllables is this? i keep trying to pronounce it and somehow I don't

    labor and labor. interesting: i never thought of the obvious connection. having had a natural delivery of my daughter, it's definitely an apt word!

    nice as always, amanda
    love
    kj

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  4. Another fascinating post Amanda! I love reading your blog because I never click away from it without having learned something :)

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    1. so happy you learn something here, sara - i love this stuff so much myself that it's an added bonus when people find enjoyment in it as well ;))

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  5. So the childbirth labor was the 7th definition? Hmmm. So what guy wrote that dictionary!? lol!
    Very interesting post!!! :)

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    1. i noticed that too, lucinda - women and their labor come last - go figure!

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  6. I have always loved the Spanish, 'dar luz a tu hijo.' It is heart-rendingly accurate and deeply lyrical all at once.

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    1. suze - does that mean 'to give to the light' as well? either way, sounds beautiful...

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  7. Word veri was very close to 'gestate.' :)

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  8. Definitions make process sound so efficient and straightforward! "beginning with contractions...." wow. I'm glad there is a goddess to call on to speed the process up.

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    1. haha - dictionary definitions do sound so clinical!!! just laughing to myself that webster's recently added these new words: 'twerking' and 'selfie' :))

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  9. From child birth to a national holiday - I love it!

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