Muse, sing of Hermes, the son of Zeus and Maia, lord of Cyllene and Arcadia rich in flocks, the luck-bringing messenger of the immortals whom Maia bare, the rich-tressed nymph, when She was joined in love with Zeus, — a shy Goddess, for She avoided the company of the blessed Gods, and lived within a deep, shady cave. There the son of Cronos used to lie with the rich-tressed nymph, unseen by deathless Gods and mortal men, at dead of night while sweet sleep should hold white-armed Hera fast.
~ Homeric Hymn
Hail and blessings to Maia!
Pronounced MAY-ah, the Goddess Maia comes to us from Greek and Roman mythology. She is typically represented as a fertility Goddess associated with Spring and the month of May.
In Greek mythology, Maia is the eldest of the seven daughters of the pre-Olympian Titan, Atlas and the nymph, Pleione. Maia is the eldest and most beautiful of Her seven sisters. Together they form the constellation of the Pleiades, whose rising signals the beginning of Summer.
Despite, or perhaps because of Her incredible beauty, Maia was shy and chose to live alone in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. Thus, She is sometimes referred to as a mountain nymph.
The God Zeus fell in love with Maia, although He was married to Hera (He did this sort of thing quite a lot, if you know anything about the Olympian Gods).
As the Homeric poet wrote, Zeus met with Maia secretly in Her cave, while His wife Hera slept. As a result of these trysts, Maia gave birth to Hermes (the Roman God, Mercury).
She was also associated with Ops, the Earth-Goddess who symbolizes the bounty of the Earth, as well the Great Mother, Cybele. Maia is sometimes referred to as the mother of magic, as Her son Hermes is believed to have been the first to master the art.
But there is also a Roman Goddess — Maia Majestas.
Goddess scholar Thalia Took writes that in Western classical mythology, “Maia is the Oscan [region of ancient southern Italy] Earth-Goddess, and an ancient Roman Goddess of Springtime, warmth, and increase. She causes the plants to grow through Her gentle heat, and the month of May is probably named for Her.”
“Her name means ‘She Who is Great,’ and is related to Oscan mais and Latin majus, both of which mean ‘more.’
“She is also called Maia Maiestas, ‘Maia the Majestic,’ which is essentially a doubling of Her name to indicate Her power, as both ‘Maia’ and ‘Maiestas’ have their roots in latin magnus, “great or powerful.”
Later, when Greek and Roman cultures began to blend more intimately, Maia of Italy was combined with the Greek Goddess of the same name.
Through this association, the Roman Maia became the mother of Mercury (the Roman version of Hermes), and Her festival on the Ides of May (the 15th) coincided with the festival commemorating the date of the dedication of Mercury’s temple on the Aventine.
As a Goddess of merry-making, flowering, and Springtime, we might be tempted to not take Her seriously. But the roots of Her name point to a Chthonic, incredibly powerful, and ancient form of the Great Goddess. She is no less than a Giver of Life.
In fact, some scholars believe that Maia is the ancient and original name of the Bona Dea (“the Good Goddess”), whose name was so sacred it was forbidden to be spoken aloud.
While the name Maia is mostly thought of as Graeco-Roman, it is also found in Sanskrit, as the term maya. This is the name for the illusion we experience as the material world, and the ignorance (avidya) that makes the illusion possible.
Although Maya in Sanskrit is associated with avidya, non-wisdom, the Greek Goddess Maia is the mother of Hermes, the God of wisdom. Furthermore, Maya was the name of the mother of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, the incarnation of wisdom.
I think this is no coincidence. For does not Maia reveal both sides of the same Reality, and the ultimate wisdom: that the flowering and manifesting of life is both beautiful and ephemeral?
With gratitude to these resources: