Rhea tricking Cronus giving him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes
Rhea tricking Cronus giving him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes - https://goo.gl/hBemiy

Today it’s Mother’s day and people across 46 countries celebrate motherhood. Although roots of the holiday can be traced in the U.K and the United States as late as the 19th century, the origins of Mother’s day go back to the era of Ancient Greece and the myth of Rhea.

Mother’s day, nowadays, is a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society and is celebrated most commonly in March or May. Millions of people across the globe take the day as an opportunity to honor their mothers, thank them for their efforts in giving them life, raising them and being their constant support and well-wisher. In Greece, it is celebrated on the second Sunday of May. But in order to find the origins of the holiday, we will go way back in time, to ancient Greece.

Ancient Greeks used to hold an annual spring festival in honor of the mythological maternal goddesses and used the occasion to honor Rhea. The name ‘Rhea’ means flow and ease and some mythology experts suggest that she represented the eternal flow of time (as the wife of Cronus, who was sometimes identified with the time in some literature). She is also known as “the Queen of Heaven” or "The Great Mother".


rheaRoman statue displaying Rhea

Rhea was the daughter of Gaea (or mother earth) and Uranus (god of sky) and she was part of the first generation of Greek gods, a group of beautiful immortals called the “Titans” . She and her twelve brothers and sisters were the first group of Greek gods. Helios controlled the movements of the sun, Selene controlled the movements of the moon at night, Oceanus the river that surrounded the earth. Atlas, the strongest of all the brothers, held the sky up so it would not fall on earth and Prometheus was the most clever sibling who created humankind out of clay!  

As far as Rhea is concerned, she was considered the goddess of the Earth and she was married to her youngest brother, Cronus.Though this is utterly bizarre in today's world, in the myths of ancient societies like Egypt and Greece, it was common for siblings to marry one another. In some societies the myths were created to explain and mimic the marriage and family practises of the rulers of the society.

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Rhea and Cronus had several children, including Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hestia, and Hera. However each time Rhea gave birth to a new baby, Cronus would look down at the newborn and grow fearful that his child would one day dethrone him. The reason behind this was that Gaia and Uranus had warned him that just as he had overthrown his own father, he was destined to be overcome by his own child! So, as each of his children were born, Cronus swallowed them, to keep his place on the throne. But when Zeus- the 6th child- was born, Rhea tricked Cronus and instead of the baby, he gave him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, to swallow. Rhea hid her infant son Zeus in a cave on “Mount Ida”. Her attendants, acted as a bodyguard for the infant Zeus, helping to conceal his whereabouts from his father and managed to raise him in secret. Later, when Zeus grew up he dethroned his father, as the prophecy foretold, and forced him to disgorge his five siblings. And so were the first Olympian Gods created!


Rhea-lionThe distinctive symbols of Rhea : The Lion and the Moon
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Rhea's Symbols

The moon is one of Rhea’s symbols in Greek mythology while other symbols include two lions (or lionesses) and the swan, a bird representing peace and  kindness. In some artworks she is depicted while holding a stone wrapped in clothes before Cronus, as a reference to the trick she played on him to save her son, Zeus. Some other artworks display her riding a chariot pulled by a pair of lions.

The Modern Story

The modern holiday of Mother's Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St Andrew's Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. St Andrew's Methodist Church now holds the International Mother's Day Shrine. Her campaign to make Mother's Day a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Ann Jarvis had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War, and created Mother's Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother by continuing the work she started and to set aside a day to honor all mothers because she believed a mother is "the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world".

So now you know both origins of this great holiday. Today, don’t miss the chance to thank your mother for all she has gave you, starting with literally your life itself. And for those who have lost their loved ones, do remember that they will always live in your hearts. Happy Mother’s day!