Queen of May
In modern mythology books, especially those oriented toward children, Maia is but a mere footnote: her claim to fame is as Hermes’ mother and one of Zeus’ few paramours able to avoid Hera’s wrath. Maia, however, is not just someone’s mother and girlfriend. She is a great goddess in her own right, significant enough to have a month named in her honor. Veneration of Maia spread from Greece to Italy and through Europe. She had a significant following in Marseilles, and some scholars consider her an archetype for some Black Madonnas of southern France.
There is a reason Maia is given such short shrift in mythology books: very little is now known about her. She was among those female spirits classified as Bona Dea: a “Good Goddess” whose rites and Myster ies were restricted to women. Nothing was written down or documented, perhaps especially because it’s intimated that her rites were licentious and sexy. No stories regarding Maia survive beyond the birth of Hermes, but scholars believe she was once very significant based on references in ancient texts.
Maia’s name means “nurse,” as in to breastfeed. She’s the eldest of the Pleiades, the Seven Star Sisters, daughters of Atlas. When the goddess Callisto, was transformed into a bear, her son Arcas was raised by her good friend, Maia. Maia is a mountain goddess, content to remain a wild cave dweller far from civilization. It’s baby Hermes who, literally from the first day of his life, plots to advance himself and his mother to Olympus.
Maia has a good relationship with Artemis and Dionysus but is a relatively solitary spirit. She has a consistently close relationship with her son: Greek vase paintings depict them in deep consultation with each other. Post-Christianity, her month was rededicated to Mary.
A beautiful, bejeweled woman often depicted with upswept hair.
Maia’s image appears on coins from Pheneos, Arcadia (Hermes is on the flip side).
The month of May is named in her honor. The first and fifteenth days of the month are especially sacred to her. (Once upon a time, this would have corresponded with the new and full moons.) Sacrifices to Maia were incorporated into the Floralia Festival (23 April–3 May) when a pregnant sow was sacrificed to her on 1 May.
Place Maia’s altar within a cabinet or reproduce some sort of cave space for her. She is a private spirit but may be venerated alongside Artemis, Callisto, Hermes, Dionysus, and a host of Nymphs.
Honey, cookies, and pastries in the shape of pigs
Bona Dea; Callisto; Flora; Hera; Hermes; Nymph; Pleiades; Zeus
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.
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