Chances are, if you’re familiar with the word at all, it conjures up some dark subterranean prison for ancient Greek titans–towering, evil creatures made of stone–and other bad actors. Take Sisyphus, for example. He’s imprisoned down there. He rolls a boulder all the way up a mountain, only to have it tumble back down, just as he reaches the top. He does this over and over, hence the term “a Sisyphean task”—doing something pointless. Another denizen of Tartarus is evil Tantalus, a demigod king who cut up his son and served him, boiled, to the Gods of Olympus. For all eternity he now starves beneath a fruit tree just out of reach, above a pond whose water recedes whenever he kneels to drink.
But peel away the deeper layers of Greek mythology, back to the time before the gods and humans, and Tartarus wasn’t a super-max prison for ancient Greek bad guys. Anything but. Instead, it was a place of divine feminine creation. A place where the sky, sea and mountains were first born, after Gaia had poured out the stars and created gravity, or, as it was called, Eros.
According to the Greeks, Gaia, the Earth, was the first thing to exist anywhere. She emerged from the silence and stillness of Chaos, and became self-aware. She was the first titan, and the first thing she created was her womb. Tartarus was so deep in the Earth that later, Zeus claimed a bronze anvil, dropped from the Underworld, would fall for nine days before it reached this place.
It was here that she created Ouranos, the Sky, her future husband, and the other early titans who fashioned the first ecosystems.
It was in Tartarus that her husband Ouranos locked away six of Gaia’s children, which enraged her.
It was in Tartarus that she created Typhon, a monster made for one purpose: to kill her grandson Zeus after he betrayed her.
And it was in Tartarus that Zeus imprisoned Gaia’s beloved family of creators forever in darkness, far beneath the light-filled life systems that they originally made.