Note: Inspired by Mary Sharratt’s excellent post on February 13 about the heroine’s journey and by Elizabeth Cunningham’s beautiful novel The Wild Mother (who is Lilith), I took a dive into my archives and found this story about Athena, which I first wrote back in the late 1980s. That was about the time the Goddess rapped me on the head, so to speak, and said, “Pay attention.” The story is based on research I did at the time. I’ve now done some rewriting for FAR. Read on and hear the voice of Athena not as a player in the usual Greek myths but as a goddess of wisdom who is one-unto-herself.
My first birth was in the dark continent to the south of the Black Sea, always described by Homer (who invented much of what you take as true in his two long stories) as the wine-dark sea. That is, I was born in what is now Libya in northern Africa. I was born in a many-chambered palace beside a clear lake and received into the world by a tribe of strong women. I was the first-born child of Metis the Wise. You may have read that Metis was the daughter of Oceanus and a Titaness of great cunning; that’s what the “traditional wisdom” says about her. Not true. Metis was one-unto-herself, the queen of a great tribe, holder of the sacred serpents, and painter of wild scenes on tall red cliffs that exist into your day. I was the daughter of daughters from the beginning of the earth, whom some have called Amazons. I knew nothing of that name, however, for I was simply a much beloved child of a thousand thousand foremothers and a hundred living mothers.
Yes, I had a happy childhood in a flowery land that had known peace since time out of mind. I was praised as often as I was scolded. When I reached the proper age, I began my schooling, and my mothers became my teachers. I learned from them the arts of the ever-renewing moon, the ever-renewing serpent arts, the art of knowing when to speak and when to keep silent. (The latter was a difficult lesson for me then and is difficult still.) I learned music and mathematics and rhetoric and the books of the laws. I learned the arts both of peace and defensive warfare.
But don’t think I was always in the schoolroom! I also spun and wove and dyed, I made pots and baskets, I sowed and harvested and baked bread. I learned archery and rode our wild horses that never let any man touch them.
At night I studied with our elder women and sometimes with those who came to our flowery land from the darker tribes who lived far to the south in the hot lands beyond the wild desert. During what you might call my “teen years,” I also went to study with the imperial folk who built their still-standing pyramids beside the Nile and—can you believe it?—I even went to visit the tall, pale folk who had come searching for us from their islands in the great Central Sea, which you call the Mediterranean. I have vague memories, too, of perhaps visiting other tall, pale folk who lived in the great northern lands of snow and ice. Those tribes, too, honored their goddesses of wisdom. Yes, I studied with all the great tribes of the world. I danced with their daughters, and I loved them, too.
We, the first Amazons, worshipped the Great Mother in all Her names and aspects and seasons, and we honored Her in Her realms above and below and around the earth. We lived in harmony and industry. And we never thought our world would end.
Now some today will say that we were a race of women warriors, ferocious and merciless. Indeed, I myself have carried a shield and hurled a spear. But that was later. Some remember us only as the wild female armies we were forced to become. Some say that we scorned all men, avoided all contact with the male race (well, except for intimate contact needed to increase our numbers), and that we killed or exposed our male babies or gave them away without remorse.
Let me tell you the truth. I remember that we did live apart. We lived around a clear lake, whereas the pale ones who came later lived in the wooded lands and in their dreadful cities where they forbade their women to leave their houses. We thought their women were their captives. But we welcomed all who came to our land and called them our honored guests. We were kinder to them than they were to us. We shared our land’s bounty with them, we studied with them and they with us. And, yes, we did give them our male children to raise after weaning. We were good neighbors and we honored our treaties. We contested at festivals and fairs, competed in games of body and mind, and won as often as they. And we never thought our world would end.
But it did end. My mother and aunts and sisters are gone now. The grandmothers and sisters of our tribe are gone, scattered, or dead. Our clear lake and sacred land were invaded by hoards of hairy men from the northern steppes and the hard mountains, from the steep and rocky lands beyond the wine-dark sea. We were overcome by pale, grasping men who called themselves civilized. And although we defended ourselves and gave as good as we got, although we fought with the craftiness of serpents and the ferocity of bears, we were only a small tribe. To put it simply, we were outnumbered. All they had to do season after season was to bring their conscripted armies to our lands until at last they prevailed. They were as many and as hard as the stones of their infertile soil. I witnessed the looting, the torching of our frescoed rooms, and when I saw what happened to our motherland, I shed many tears and yearned to join my dead mother and her dead sisters, who were insulted and raped and raped again.
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.