Maya's name has many roots. First and foremost she is named for "Maya,"
the Greco-Roman goddess of the earth. Maya is described in The Book of
When we look into the night sky, we can recognize the seven stars which
make up the constellation called the Pleiades. The ancient Greeks thought
that these stars were once the seven daughters of Atlas [and Pleione, a
name for Aphrodite, the goddess of love who emerged from the sea], and that
the goddess Maia was the youngest of them. When he took part in a revolt
led by the giants against the gods of Olympus, Atlas was made to bear the
world on his shoulders as punishment. Maia and her sisters mourned their
father's humiliation so much that the gods turned them into doves to spare
them any more pain. Then they flew to the highest heaven and became brightly
shining stars - the seven stars we call the Pleiades.
Maia is mainly remembered today as the goddess of spring and rebirth, like
the month of May that bears her name. "Maia" means "the maker,"
and every spring she makes the lush green grass and the fragrant flowers
grow again. She is also praised as "the grandmother of magic"
because her son [by Zeus], the god Hermes, was the first to discover that
Soon after Maia gave birth to Hermes, she knew her son was a genius. While
still a crawling baby, he created the first lyre by stretching strings across
atortoise shell, and the first panpipe from marsh reeds. Besides being the
first magician, Hermes is credited with the invention of medicine, astrology,
and letters. Part of his duties as messenger to the gods and goddesses was
the responsibility of bringing souls of the dead to the underworld. It is
interesting to see how through this function Maia's son became the god of
death, which contrasts to Maia's role as bringer of life each spring.
People still celebrate Maia every year on the first of May, which is called
May Day in honor of the goddess. Men and women rejoice over the rebirth
of spring by dancing circles around the maypole and by wearing vibrant green
- the color of the earth itself.
Maya Katherine Buffett-Davis is also named for Maya
Deren, a pioneer of avant-garde and experimental cinema from the middle
of the twentieth century. Maya is also named for the Sanskrit notion of
"Maya" explained in the Goddesslink
Like Shakti ("Energy") and Prakriti ("nature"), Maya
is less a Goddess than one of the great philosophic concepts of Indian Hinduism
embodied in female form. In Hindu thought, the male energy is essentially
passive, while the female is the force of action. Maya is one of those active
powers: the constant movement of the universe, pervasive to the atomic level.
There is no life -- no existence, even -- without Maya, but she is so powerful
that we cannot see the essence of things and mistake her movement for reality.
For this reason, Maya is often called "the veil of illusion,"
the dance of multiplicity that distracts us so that we cannot see all matter
as essentially identical. Illusion, however, as the sages have stressed,
is not the same as falsehood. Maya is not a negative force, but can be a
mesh through which we perceive the ultimate reality of existence -- if we
are not distracted by her magnificent creativeness and complexity.
After researching a hypothesis of mine, I found that the Greco-Roman
earth goddess Maia and the Sanskrit Maya are, in fact, connected and have
a common Indo-European earth goddess Maya underlying them. Barbara Walker
describes the Greco-Roman goddess Maia in her Women's Encyclopedia of
Myths and Secrets:
"Grandmother of Magic," mother [by Zeus] of the Greeks' Enlightened
One, Hermes, the western version of Maya, "Magic," mother
of the Hindus' Enlightened One, Buddha. She personified the powers of transformation
and material "appearances," the same powers attributed to Maya-Kali,
who made the universe by her magic. Greek writers called Maia one of the
Pleiades, but also understood that she was the Great Goddess of the Maytime
festivals, of the renewal and rebirth of the dead. She made her son Hermes
the Conductor of Souls in the underworld, just as the Hindu Maya made her
masculine counterpart Ya-Ma into a Conductor of Souls and Lord of Death.
Maya's name also connects her to the great civilizations of the Mayan
people of Central America. Amazingly, Walker traces all three Mayas (Greco-Roman,
Hindu, and Mesoamerican) to a common source in her entry on the Hindu Maya:
"Magic," title of the Virgin Kali as the creatress of earthly
appearances, i.e., all things made of matter and perceptible to the senses.
She also gave birth to the Enlightened One, Buddha. The same Goddess, called
Maia by the Greeks, was the virgin mother to Hermes the Enlightened One,
who had as many reincarnations as the Buddha. Sometimes Maia's partner was
Volcanus (Greek Hephaestus, the divine smith and fire-god). This was another
mythic mating of male fire and female water. Hindus said Agni the fire-god
was the consort of Kali-Maya, though he was periodically swallowed up and
"quenched" by her. According to the Tantric phrase, the Goddess
quenched a blazing lingam in her yoni.
As the virgin mother of Buddha, Maya embarrassed ascetic Buddhists and was
soon written out of the script. Like ascetic Christians speaking of Christ's
birth, some Buddhists claimed the Enlightened One could not touch his mother's
"parts of shame" and so was born through an opening in her side.
This mythic Caesarian section seems to have been bungled, for a few days
later Maya died -- "of joy," as Buddhist scriptures rather fatuously
Nevertheless, Maya remained very much alive as one of Kali's most revered
manifestations, because the very fact of "Existence"-- the material
cosmos-demanded her presence. As Zimmer analyzed her:
Maya-Shakti is personified as the world-protecting, feminine,
maternal side of Ultimate Being, and as such, stands for spontaneous, loving
acceptance of life's tangible reality...[S]he affirms, she is, she represents
and enjoys, the delirium of the manifested forms.... Maya-Shakti is Eve,
"the Eternal Feminine," das Ewig-Weibliche: she who
ate, she and tempted her consort to eat, and was herself the apple. From
the point of view of the masculine principle of the Spirit (which is in
quest of the enduring, eternally valid, and absolutely divine) she is the
In herself Maya embodied all three aspects of the maternal trinity. Her
colors were white, red, and black, the colors of the Gunas, or the Virgin-Mother-Crone.
Like every other form of Kali, she was Creator, Preserver, Destroyer. She
was also a spirit dwelling perpetually in women, A Mahayana text says, "Of
all the forms of Maya, woman is the most important."
Maya's son Buddha was surrounded by her symbols. He entered his trance of
meditation under her sacred fig tree, which protected him from the weather.
On his return from the soul-journey, his first symbolic act was to accept
a dish of curds from a maiden on Full Moon Day in the month of May, the
greatest of Buddhist festivals.
Not only the month but many other traditions attest to the great age and
wide distribution of the Goddess Maya. She was more than the Maia who mothered
Hermes; she was also Maga the Grandmother-goddess who bore Cu Chulainn's
mother; and the Mandaean Christian's Almaya, called "Eternity,"
or "the World," or "Beings"; and Maga or Maj the May-maiden
in Scandinavia. Like the Hindu Maya who brought forth earthly appearances
at creation, the Scandinavian one personified the pregnant womb of chaos
before the beginning: Ginnungagap. In this the World-virgin was associated
with the idea of magical illusion, creating "appearances" like
her Hindu counterpart.
This universal Creatress-name may have reached the western hemisphere also.
The Maya people of Yucatan offered sacrifices in the same way as in northern
India, at the same seasons, determined by the same stars. Mayan "scorpion
stars" were the same as the constellation Scorpio on Hindu and Greek
charts. As in India, Mayan divine images were painted blue and Mayan women
pierced the left nostril for insertion of a jewel. Another version of the
Creatress seems to have been the Mother Goddess Mayauel of the Mexican Agave,
called "Woman with Four Hundred Breasts," with a strong resemblance
to the world-nurturing Many-Breasted Artemis and other eastern forms of
the deity who mothered all the world's creatures.
It is our hope that Maya Katherine Buffett-Davis may be blessed with the
creative and magical powers of her namesake.