Back around the turn of the century when I was writing Pagan Every Day, I did a lot of research. I had to. I had to write something for every day of the year, including leap year day and a second January 1, i.e., a year and a day. I used real books. I stacked them around the chair in front of my computer. I had to step over books. Step around books. Wind my way past books to other books that had somehow landed across the room. Just like nearly everybody else who writes for Feminism and Religion, I wrote and thought and deleted and wrote some more. (Y’all know how that goes.) We writers have always had interesting adventures with traditional publishers. That’s one reason self-publishing is so popular today: we can maintain more control over our work. Twenty years ago, when I modestly (hah!) submitted my year and a day of essays, the publisher said, “Oh, you wrote too much. We only want 300 words per day.” They hadn’t mentioned that before. So I began editing. I threw away nearly all my nifty daily epigraphs and edited every day down to (cross my heart) 301 words.
Who did I find for early February? A Greek god who had secrets. A Roman goddess who is special to me to this day.
They keep telling us that the sun has always belonged to gods, the moon, to goddesses. That gold is masculine and silver is feminine, and everybody knows that gold is worth lots more than silver. That yang is active and yin is passive. Oh, yeah? You know what I think? I think this mythology is based on the mechanics of sex—the thrusting, projective male on top of the yielding, receptive female. Lighten up, big boy.
According to Greek Pelasgian myth, Sunday—the sun’s day—was originally ruled by Theia, “the bright one” and mother of Helios, and her consort, Hyperion, the first sun god. Theia and Hyperion were titans, pre-Olympic deities who ruled the days of the week. Helios is older than Apollo, who other sources say was originally Hittite, Lycian, or Arabian. Because he visits the Hyperboreans in the winter, it is even possible that he was born in Northern lands.
As the best known solar god, Apollo also became the god of fertility, light, truth, medicine, music, poetry, and all fine arts. (One modern author says that he “absorbed several formerly goddess functions.”) But this golden paragon’s original name was Apollo Smintheus; he was the god of mice. … The solar connection may have arisen from two early coins that show him tossing his hair in a solar aura. Apollo’s name may mean “destroyer,” which is how he’s portrayed in the Iliad. In the sixth century B.C.E., the Athenian dramatist Aeschylus mentioned that there was an affinity between Apollo and the sun. Other Greek poets took up the conceit, and a few centuries later the Orphics imagined a solar realm with nothing female in it, only a crowd of gods.
What do I think of Apollo twenty years after I wrote this essay? I can’t help but think of the glorious young singers, rappers, and actors I’ve never heard of but who attract gazillions of young, female fans. In the olden days, those girls surrendered to sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. I bet they still do today. But watch out for Apollo! He shines very brightly, but he’s also very hot. And he burns. Remember Icarus? Do we know that the Sahara was once a broad plain with forests and lakes? Look at the lands being desertified today. Yes, watch out for Apollo.
The wheel of fortune isn’t just a TV show or a gambling device. Fortuna is another of those early Roman civic goddesses. Her statues show her holding an overflowing cornucopia in one hand and a ship’s rudder in her other hand. Beside her stands her wheel, a multivalent symbol that we see in mandalas, the wheel of the year, the zodiac, and the rose windows of Gothic cathedrals. Although Fortuna is sometimes blindfolded, she’s not just “Lady Luck.” Her name originally meant “she who brings,” and what she brings is what happens in our lives. She steers our fate with her rudder, and her cornucopia shows that she can bring us wealth. What she brings in early spring is fertility—crops, animals, humans. The Greeks called her Tyche, the Anglo-Saxons called her Wyrd, and in the medieval Christian church she was known as St. Agatha.
Tarot Card X is The Wheel of Fortune. When this card comes up in a reading, I interpret it as a change of fortune, either up or down, depending on what the querent wants out of life. Fortuna’s wheel is always turning. It’s a common theme in medieval and renaissance literature that anyone who stands on the top of the wheel will inevitably fall, just as anyone who clings to the bottom will inevitably rise. Thus we have the tragedies of kings and the comedies of ambitious commoners.
Reader, today is a good day for divination. Get a tarot reading. Toss a coin (another wheel) and see what Fortuna has in store for you during the first quarter of this year. As spring begins, do you find yourself at the top or the bottom of Fortune’s wheel? It’s likely that your life will change before the end of spring. That’s how wheels work: they’re always turning.
And do I still believe what I wrote about Dame Fortuna twenty years ago? You betcha. Let’s just look at politics. In 2016, her wheel took a dreadful turn downward. We found ourselves down at the very bottom. In 2018, the wheel took its customary turn and we moved up a bit. If the wheel turns as wheels normally turn, 2020 will bring us up some more. Let us hope!!
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the Neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.