Maia is the Oscan 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". She was honored
by the Romans on the 1st and 15th of May, and at the Volcanalia of August 23rd,
the holiday of Her sometimes husband, the Fire-God Vulcan.
She seems to have been paired with Vulcan because they were both
considered Deities of heat: through the increasing warmth of Maia's spring season
flowers and plants sprouted and grew; while Vulcan's stronger summer heat brought
the fruits to ripeness. The flamen Volcanalis, the priest who officially oversaw
the rites of Vulcan, sacrificed a pregnant sow to Maia on the first day of May.
The offering of a pregnant sow was traditionally given to Earth-goddesses such
as Tellus or Ceres and signified both the remarkable
fecundity of the Earth (as there are usually between 6 and 12 piglings in a
litter) as well as the darker side of the Earth Mother, as sows have been known
to eat their young. Rites to Maia were also performed at the August Volcanalia,
a festival to ward off the destructive fires that could be caused by the dry
weather and burning sun of summertime.
In a later period, Maia was confused with a Greek Goddess of
the same name. This Maia (whose name in Greek can take such various meanings
as "midwife", "female doctor", "good mother",
"foster mother", or "aunty") was a nymph and the mother
of Hermes, the trickster God of merchants,
travellers, and liars; She was also said to have been the eldest and most beautiful
of the seven sisters who formed the constellation of the Pleiades, whose heliacal
rising (meaning when the constellation is just visible in the east before the
sun rises) signalled the beginning of summer. Through this association the Roman
Maia became the mother of Mercury, and Her festival on the Ides of May (the
15th) coincided with the festival commemorating the date of the dedication of
His temple on the Aventine.
Ovid gives several possibilities as to how the month May got
its name, and though he admits confusion, one of the possibilities he gives
is that it is named after the personification of Majesty, whom he describes
as seated in a place of high honor on Mt. Olympos, clothed in gold and purple.
At face value it would seem he simply made this up; but as an alternate name
(not just an epithet) of Maia is Maiesta, "Majesty", he may have been
closer than he thought. Though a Goddess of the merry flowering springtime may
seem kinda fluffy-bunny, the roots of Her name point to a powerful and ancient
great Goddess of the Earth, growth, fertility and heat. It is rumoured that
Maia was the ancient and original name of the Bona Dea
("the Good Goddess"), whose name was so sacred it was forbidden to
be spoken aloud; and through this connection Maia was associated with the Goddesses
Fauna and Fatua. She was also associated with Ops, the Earth-Goddess who symbolizes
the wealth of the Earth, and the eastern Great Mother Cybele.
Alternate names: Maiesta, Maja, Majestas, Majesty.