Note: If you’ve been reading Athena’s story for the past two days (link to Part 2 here), you know what’s happened to her before her third birth. You’ve read her version as I heard it in my mind and wrote it down. Part 3, here, is mostly speculative, based on hints in books I’ve read during the past twenty-plus years. If you’ve read The Greek Myths by Robert Graves (who is said to be The Authority), you’ve met Medea in the context of the yarn about the Golden Fleece, but I’m leaving Jason out of this story. I’m also leaving Theseus (also associated with Medea) out. These boys have no role in Athena’s story of her meeting and her shamanic rebirth at the hands of the great Medea, who is sometimes called a sorceress. Read on.
And so with the help of the great Hera, who remembered how I had once loved her (and she still loved me), I left Zeus’ stony kingdom. Hera helped me depart, though I soon forgot her help. I suppose she is still there. After all, her own lands had been taken long before, her own throne stolen long ago, her temples and altars supplanted. I suppose she has nowhere to go now. For all I know, great Hera remains at the declining god-king’s side, where poets still deprecate her and laugh at her and call her a nagging wife. A god-king as impotent as he is now needs such a strong wife, does he not? I regret that I no longer know her.
But I could find no other kingdom that would give me charity or honor, found no other king or god who would wed me or let me speak for him, and so I become disillusioned with kings and gods and epic tales. I put down my spear and shield and abandoned my armor and helmet, though I always kept my owl (who often flew above me) and my ragged plume.
And so, twice homeless, twice born and twice dead, friendless and scorned by the men I had so harshly judged, I wandered through the world, and all anyone saw was a woman, a gray, anonymous woman carrying a stick and a drooping feather. I walked up and down in the world and had no home. I had neither friends nor sisters nor protégées to honor me, neither priestesses nor queens to love me. I had no one at all. I had nothing at all. I wandered alone through all the lands around the wine-dark sea, alone in the lands around the central sea, alone in the lands along the ocean sea and the northern sea. For uncounted years I wandered alone, stopping here and there, but never staying anywhere, searching for what I never found and no longer remembered. I went in a plain gray cloak with my stick in my hand, my sad plume in a pouch at my belt. Sometimes I ate, but more often I went hungry. Up and down upon the earth I walked, and so my pride and anger began to be worn away.
At last I came to a small temple in a great city at the eastern edge of the Black Sea. I found myself outside a temple of the Great Goddess, and having nowhere else to go to escape the rain that sad day, I went in. I who had forsaken Her when I fell into the ways of the old god-king, I who had not returned to any temple since my death to the god-king’s ways, yes, I went into that temple. I who had shunned all religions as useless and weak, I who had turned my back on impotent gods and irrational goddesses alike—I came to a temple and because it was raining and I was chilled, I went in.
The Lady of that temple was present that rainy day. The Lady Medea smiled at me. Not realizing who I had been, she greeted me and called me daughter. She saw that I was wet and cold and hungry and because she had no more children, she gave me dry clothes and set me before the fire and fed me. The Lady Medea let me watch her rites. She lit a lamp for me at the altar.
As I watched and listened, I said not one word. But I began to remember. In her voice I heard again the voices of my mothers and sisters in the ancient flowery lands. In her incantations, I heard my own long silence. I was touched. I was embraced that day by the Great Goddess who loves Her children and never forsakes them.
But to live in that land, I had to die again. I had to die to my terrible, self-imposed death of wandering. I had to die to my hubris that knew neither human nor divine compassion. The Lady Medea showed me compassion. She assisted at my death. The Lady Medea chopped me into pieces, pulled my flesh from my bones, pulled bone from bone, and boiled my barren bones in her shamanic cauldron until I was clean. And then she hung me on a tree limb above the coils of her serpents. Charred and black, I hung there in a sack.
With her golden touch, the Lady Medea then restored me to new life. She knit my bones back together and covered them with my renewed flesh. She and her ladies nursed me as my mothers had nursed me. In their cloisters near the temple, they chanted over me and healed me, they fed and clothed me. And thus in that small temple near the wine-dark sea I was born a third time, born into the lovingkindness of the Great Goddess, and thus it is that I am now called the Thrice-Born One. I rose from my long death in the god-king’s realm, from my longer death in the wilderness, from my death in the Lady Medea’s cauldron. I was reborn to dark and light, to winter and summer, to sorrow and pleasure, to ignorance and understanding.
Now I shall go forward, I shall walk into this newest world my younger sisters have built. I shall tell them that the old stories written by blind men are nonsense. I shall tell my true story and tell what I have learned in my lives and in my deaths. Now being thrice-born, I wish to live a full life among scholars and warriors and housewives and executives and secretaries and teachers. Perhaps I can be seen as an example of what a true, free woman can be. And may our modern women never forget who we have been.
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.