From the Archives: The Eldest, Truest Olympians

This was originally posted on June 7, 2020

Scene: A comfy lecture hall in the temple on the summit of Mount Olympus. The feminist historians have taken their seats. The eldest Olympians rise to speak. Let us attend to their words.

I am Hera, Queen of All, Daughter of Gaia, Daughter of the Great Mother, whose body is our holy earth, whose bodily fluids are our springs and oceans, whose mind is our precious air and holy fire. I am Mother of the Fates, Sister of Hestia, protector of homes, and sister of Memory, whose daughters are the Muses, sponsors of our culture. I live in contentment with my wife, Zeusina.

Continue reading “From the Archives: The Eldest, Truest Olympians”

From the Archives: Medusa and Athena: Ancient Allies in Healing Women’s Trauma by Laura Shannon

This blog was originally posted on June 24, 2017

Rather than being a bleeding image of female disempowerment, Medusa may be read as…one of the most ancient European symbols of women’s spiritual abilities… [and] an empowering image of feminine potential.’

–Patricia Monaghan, O Mother Sun! (1994:244)

The name Medusa means ‘sovereign female wisdom,’ ‘guardian / protrectress,’ ‘the one who knows’ or ‘the one who rules.’ It derives from the same Indo-European root as the Sanskrit Medha and the Greek Metis, meaning ‘wisdom’ and ‘intelligence.’ (1) Metis, ‘the clever one’, is Athena’s mother. Corretti identifies Athena, Metis, and Medusa as aspects of an ancient triple Goddess corresponding respectively to the new, full, and dark phases of the moon. (2) All three are Goddesses of wisdom, protection, and healing.

Athena with Gorgoneion in her heart. 5th C BCE.

Athena and Medusa are particularly linked: indeed, one may have been an aspect of the other, ‘two indissociable aspects of the same sacred power.’ (3) Their many common elements include snakes, wings, a formidable appearance, fierce eyes and powerful gaze. The serpent, like the Goddess, has been cast as an embodiment of evil in patriarchal retellings; yet as Merlin Stone points out, serpents were ‘generally linked to wisdom and prophetic counsel’, associated with ‘the female deity’ and ‘entwined about accounts of oracular revelation…throughout the Near and Middle East.’ (4) According to Ovid, the poisonous vipers of the Sahara ‘arose from spilt drops of Medusa’s blood.’ (5) Although this is presented as a further sign of Medusa’s horrifying character, the original Berber inhabitants of North Africa – where Herodotus reports that the Medusa myth began – viewed snakes as bringers of luck and portents of joy. (6)

Continue reading “From the Archives: Medusa and Athena: Ancient Allies in Healing Women’s Trauma by Laura Shannon”

On Ukraine, War and Goddess’s Protection by Judith Shaw

We have all been horrified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as we witness the brutal bombardment of not only military sites but also of civilians, neighborhoods, hospitals, churches, historical sites and nuclear power plants. It has been called the first TicToc war as these images fill up our computers and cellphones, leaving peace lovers challenged to maintain their belief in peaceful resolutions to conflict

Continue reading “On Ukraine, War and Goddess’s Protection by Judith Shaw”

Thrice-Born Athena, Pt. 3 by Barbara Ardinger

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.

Athena

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.

Continue reading “Thrice-Born Athena, Pt. 3 by Barbara Ardinger”

Thrice-Born Athena, Pt. 2 by Barbara Ardinger

Read Part 1 here.

Note: This part of the story concerns what nearly everybody who has read the mythology knows about the Goddess of Wisdom. But what you’ve read in, say, Edith Hamilton or Robert Graves is the patriarchal version. What would the story be like if Athena told it herself? That’s what I imagined as I wrote her story. Read on to learn more about her Greek incarnation.

Athena

After our tribe was conquered by the warriors who lived across the seas, I wished to die, and I was indeed close to death when I was carried off by the bloody hero who fancied me. I longed to die every time he violated my body, every time he crushed my mind. But I was carried away alive, a living trophy for that warrior-king. I was secured in his warship as it sailed across the sea to his hard and stony land. Weak though I was, men still fought over me. Eventually I was claimed by their god-king Dyaus, whom you may know by his commoner name, Zeus. I was claimed as his prize of war, dragged up the stony mountain that came to be called Olympus, and flung into his harem until I should become strong enough to bear his weight upon me in mating. And still I longed to die.

Continue reading “Thrice-Born Athena, Pt. 2 by Barbara Ardinger”

Thrice-Born Athena: A Secret History (Part 1) by Barbara Ardinger


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.

  Athena

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.

Continue reading “Thrice-Born Athena: A Secret History (Part 1) by Barbara Ardinger”

Recognizing Our Mentors by Joyce Zonana

Ever since I first read it when I was sixteen, I have loved Homer’s Odyssey. For many years I was lucky enough to teach it almost every semester, and so I came to know it intimately. Despite the valid feminist critique of the ancient Greek epic—that it glorifies patriarchy, justifying and perpetuating men’s control over women—I still find it to be an inspiring evocation of female autonomy and power, both human and divine. Especially divine.


At the close of the introduction to her exquisite new translation of Homer’s Odyssey, classical scholar Emily Wilson directly addresses the reader. “There is a stranger outside the house,” she tells us:

He is old, ragged, and dirty. He is tired. He has been wandering, homeless, for a long time, perhaps many years. Invite him inside. You do not know his name. He may be a thief. He may be a murderer. He may be a god. He may remind you of your husband, your father, or yourself. Do not ask questions. Wait.

There is much to explore in this passage and the lines that follow. But what strikes me today is Wilson’s simple sentence: “He may be a god.” 

The stranger may be a god. Or a goddess.

Ever since I first read it when I was sixteen, I have loved Homer’s Odyssey. For many years I was lucky enough to teach it almost every semester, and so I came to know it intimately. Despite the valid feminist critique of the ancient Greek epic—that it glorifies patriarchy, justifying and perpetuating men’s control over women—I still see it as  an inspiring evocation of female autonomy and power, both human and divine. Especially divine. Continue reading “Recognizing Our Mentors by Joyce Zonana”

The Eldest, Truest Olympians by Barbara Ardinger

Scene: A comfy lecture hall in the temple on the summit of Mount Olympus. The feminist historians have taken their seats. The eldest Olympians rise to speak. Let us attend to their words.

I am Hera, Queen of All, Daughter of Gaia, Daughter of the Great Mother, whose body is our holy earth, whose bodily fluids are our springs and oceans, whose mind is our precious air and holy fire. I am Mother of the Fates, Sister of Hestia, protector of homes, and sister of Memory, whose daughters are the Muses, sponsors of our culture. I live in contentment with my wife, Zeusina.

I am Zeusina, Co-Queen of All, Wife of Hera, Co-Mother and Sacred Guardian of all lands. You’ve heard the stories of that rapacious lecher who usurped my place? Don’t believe them! That dirty dog stole my throne, my wife, and even my name. Now one of my constant duties is to battle against the armies that are invading our peaceful lands and bringing their thunder-gods to cast us down and stand in dominion over us. The generals of those armies are bringing ruin and desolation to our lands and cities. Another of my tasks is to correct the stories the speakers for the thunder-gods tell. I rescue young women like Leda and Danae and Europa from their greedy fathers, who would sell them to the highest bidders. So many young women have I had to rescue!

I am Poseidis, Queen of Waters. When I was young, I swam and played with mermaids and seals and dolphins and whales. Now I find I must protect them from the ravages of royal navies and ruthless fishermen. I spend my days and nights working to clean up after the careless men who discard their trash in my waters. I yearn to swim and play again. Can you help me clean our waters?

I am Demeter, Queen of Crops and Farmlands. You perhaps know the story of my daughter Persephone. Men have told how she was kidnapped by my little brother, Hades. Don’t believe it! She went to visit the lands beneath the earth because she could hear the crying of souls caught in boredom in the Elysian Fields. She visited them to sing to them and to teach them to protect and fertilize the roots of plants that grow on the surface of the earth. Friends, let us work to save our lands from harm. And let us always celebrate Our Holy Mysteries.

I am Athena, Queen of Holy Wisdom. From my birth among the Amazons of Libya and my childhood among the Amazons who live near the Black Sea, I have sought learning and inspired humans to think and write. You have no doubt heard of my so-called friendship with Odysseus, that hubristic king of such a tiny island. Don’t believe what you’ve read about him! My perpetual chore is to cleanse him of that sneaky cunning and to teach him to be friendlier to the people he meets in his travels. Actually, he needs to stay home with his family.

I am Apolla, Queen of Music and Sunlight. When your day is bright and the sun is shining down upon you, think of me. When you hear a lyre or a lute or a guitar, think of me. I invented all musical instruments, and my greatest joy is the symphony orchestra. Perhaps you’ve heard the tale about how I “conquered” Delphi and took over the oracle? Don’t believe it. Like her sister sibyls, the oracle was growing elderly. I went to help her interpret some obscure riddle and liked that vale so much I bought a timeshare and now spend much of my time there. The oracles and I are aging gracefully together.

I am Ares-ma, Queen of Armies. I am so angry! Warriors should not be mercenaries working for greedy kings. They should be honorable explorers. I am so angry that kings prefer to abandon justice and their goddess-given healing touch and sit on higher and mightier thrones. I am so angry at the armies and their thunder-gods that all I want to do is fight against them and defend our ancient mothers against their burning weapons. I am so angry!

I am Aphrodite, Queen of What Is Best of Love. I am the Great Creatrix of gardens and landscaping. I inspire your poets and bring colors to your world. You’ve no doubt heard about my so-called girdle. Well, it’s really just a fancy golden belt. It’s supposed to strike men and women with profane love, to make women surrender to godlets and men who think they’re gods. Don’t believe it! I use my belt to draw magical borders between peaceful realms and teach humans about compassion and charity.

I am Hephaestia, Queen of Forges and Crafts. I have taught people to fashion metal into works of art…but some turned my lessons inside out and used my forges to create weapons. Oh, shame upon them! Do you engage in any craft? The roots of all crafts lie in my smithy, and I teach humans to do clever things with ordinary materials. We bring beauty to the world.

I am Hermia, Queen of Written Languages, Messenger between the divine worlds and the ordinary ones. You’ve heard the old tales that “Hermes” and his son Autolycus are thieves? Well, maybe they were, but I am not…well, sometimes I borrow things to show to humans and give them pleasure. I am forever speeding with messages between the worlds and lands. So much fun!

I am Dionysia, Drama Queen. Oh, yes, indeedy…I invented drama. Plus tragedy and comedy. That was when someone told me about consensual reality and I found it soooo boring. Let’s have our stories acted and sung and danced on stages (which I also invented). Let’s have elevated reality and great festivals. Hooray for Shakespeare, Moliere, and Chekhov. And the Gershwins and every performer who’s ever stepped on a stage and brought entertainment to the people!

 

Note: This bit of nonsense woke me up at 4:00 this morning. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t dreaming. Voices in my head? Who could resist? They were telling me that most of the Greek myths we’re familiar with are patriarchal fantasies. So there, Robert Graves—you’ve written the phallocentric versions. Now it’s our turn.  

 

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 DayFinding 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.

On Snakes by Ivy Helman

imageIn the ancient world, snakes represented fertility, creativity, rebirth, wisdom and, even, death.  They were often closely connected to female goddesses, priestesses and powerful human females who were the embodiment of such powers.    For example, there is the Minoan goddess/priestess holding the two snakes in her outstretched arms.  She is closely linked with fertility and domesticity.  Similar figurines, with similar associations and dating to approximately 1200 BCE, have also been founded in the land of what once was Canaan, where Israelites also lived.  Medusa, in whose hair lived venomous snakes, turned men who looked at her to stone.  Ovid’s account of the creation of Medusa credits the Greek goddess Athena with Medusa’s lively hair.  Another Greek legend says Perseus, after killing Medusa, gave her head to Athena who incorporated it into her shield.  Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is portrayed often with snakes wrapped around her as a belt and/or on the floor next to her. Continue reading “On Snakes by Ivy Helman”

Medusa and Athena: Ancient Allies in Healing Women’s Trauma by Laura Shannon

‘Rather than being a bleeding image of female disempowerment, Medusa may be read as…one of the most ancient European symbols of women’s spiritual abilities… [and] an empowering image of feminine potential.’

–Patricia Monaghan, O Mother Sun! (1994:244)

The name Medusa means ‘sovereign female wisdom,’ ‘guardian / protrectress,’ ‘the one who knows’ or ‘the one who rules.’ It derives from the same Indo-European root as the Sanskrit Medha and the Greek Metis, meaning ‘wisdom’ and ‘intelligence.’ (1) Metis, ‘the clever one’, is Athena’s mother. Corretti identifies Athena, Metis, and Medusa as aspects of an ancient triple Goddess corresponding respectively to the new, full, and dark phases of the moon. (2) All three are Goddesses of wisdom, protection, and healing.

Athena with Gorgoneion in her heart. 5th C BCE.

Athena and Medusa are particularly linked: indeed, one may have been an aspect of the other, ‘two indissociable aspects of the same sacred power.’ (3) Their many common elements include snakes, wings, a formidable appearance, fierce eyes and powerful gaze. The serpent, like the Goddess, has been cast as an embodiment of evil in patriarchal retellings; yet as Merlin Stone points out, serpents were ‘generally linked to wisdom and prophetic counsel’, associated with ‘the female deity’ and ‘entwined about accounts of oracular revelation…throughout the Near and Middle East.’ (4) According to Ovid, the poisonous vipers of the Sahara ‘arose from spilt drops of Medusa’s blood.’ (5) Although this is presented as a further sign of Medusa’s horrifying character, the original Berber inhabitants of North Africa – where Herodotus reports that the Medusa myth began – viewed snakes as bringers of luck and portents of joy. (6)

Despite Medusa’s fearsome appearance, she herself does not personify evil or demonic forces. According to Miriam Robbins Dexter, Medusa is a manifestation of the Neolithic serpent/bird Goddess of life, death, and regeneration. (7) Jane Harrison explains that the ancient Goddess wore the Gorgon mask to warn the uninitiated away from her rites (8), most likely mysteries of the great cosmic cycles of heaven and earth. Patricia Monaghan sees the snakelike rays streaming out from Medusa’s countenance as a sign of a solar Goddess (9), while Joan Marler, citing her connection with Hecate, identifies Medusa more with the moon than the sun (10); either way, Medusa is a heavenly deity ruling over the powers of the cosmos and the rhythms of time. Continue reading “Medusa and Athena: Ancient Allies in Healing Women’s Trauma by Laura Shannon”

OF POWER, GOOD COUNSEL, AND WISDOM by Daniel Cohen

In the Jewish and Christian traditions, Wisdom (Hochma in Hebrew, Sophia in Greek) is a female figure who is an aspect of deity. This has been forgotten for many years, but people are beginning to re-discover Her.

There was a time when Power and Good  counsel walked hand in hand. That was the springtime of the world. In those days men and women honoured each other and honoured also the living world. The sun, moon and stars, the winds, the waters, and even the rocks themselves were known to be alive. In those days Death was no enemy, but a friend to be welcomed when She made the invitation to visit Her country.

But Good Counsel became pregnant, and Power began to be afraid. He feared first that the coming child would take Good Counsel away from him. And then he feared that their child would so well combine the features of the two of them that it would in due course put him down from his place.

Power devised a plan. He opened his mouth to its widest, and pushed Good Counsel in, swallowing her whole. He now felt free of his fears. He began to claim that all the good counsel in the world now belonged to him, and so he declared that it was only fitting he should rule all the world. Though many opposed his claim, he persuaded, and sometimes bullied, others into believing that this opposition was due to bad counsel. And so, though many grumbled and secretly worshipped elsewhere, he set himself up as ruler of the world. Continue reading “OF POWER, GOOD COUNSEL, AND WISDOM by Daniel Cohen”

How a Woman Became a Goddess: Athena by Laura Loomis

A large part of my fascination with Goddesses has to do with images of female power in cultures that were (and are) overtly patriarchal.  Power has a tricky balance:  when it’s being abused, the struggle is to find a way to overcome the oppressor without becoming one yourself.  But to paraphrase Erica Jong, the best oppressors don’t beat you – they get you to beat yourself.  I have been thinking about this as I watch Democrats hand power over to Republicans ever since coming back into control of the government.

Which brings me to Athena.

Athena may have had her origins as a Cretan or North African mother Goddess.  But by classical times in Greece, she was firmly established as the virgin Goddess of wisdom, household crafts, and war and peace.  It’s said that Zeus, like his father and grandfather before him, feared that his child would be more powerful than himself.  So when Metis was pregnant with Athena, he challenged her to a shape-shifting contest.  She took the form of a fly, and Zeus swallowed her.  (I don’t know why he swallowed that fly…)   Continue reading “How a Woman Became a Goddess: Athena by Laura Loomis”

A CLASH OF CULTURES IN OUR GENES by Carol P. Christ

I carry the exact replica of MDNA handed down from mother to daughter since the depths of the last Ice Age 17,000 years ago.  My father carries  the YDNA of the Indo-Europeans handed down from father to son since the time when his male ancestors invaded Europe about 5000 years ago.   

My female ancestors moved with the seasons as they gathered fruits and nuts, roots and greens to feed their families. Some of them may have blown red ochre around their hands to leave their marks in ritual cave-wombs.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed down exclusively from mothers to their children. My MDNA “T2b” was given the name “the clan of Tara” by Bryan Sykes in The Seven Daughters of Eve.  According to Sykes the earliest female ancestor with this gene lived about 17,000 years ago, perhaps in Tuscany. Continue reading “A CLASH OF CULTURES IN OUR GENES by Carol P. Christ”

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