Thursday, December 23, 2010

Another Yuletide Filk

Response was positive for my carol from earlier this month, so I thought I'd try my hand at another one. A special shout out to Cerridwen is in this song, as a Solstice gift to my sweet soul-sister Lily Savage.

A Joyful Winter Solstice
to the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

A Joyful Winter Solstice
the Sun is born again
from the sacred cauldron-womb
of mother Cerridwen.

His fire shines on gilded pines
Oh, hear the ancients sing
of tidings of magic and joy.
Magic and joy!

Oh tidings of magic and joy!

The world was cold and darkened
the Sun had gone away
but now He has returned to us
on blessed Solstice day.

To light our hearts and warm our souls
Oh, hear the ancients sing
of tidings of magic and joy.
Magic and joy!

Oh tidings of magic and joy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Athena and Winter Solstice

Tonight is the winter solstice, which doesn't have any direct holiday celebration in the Athenian Greek festival calendar, but does have some indirect links to the worship of Athena. (The Greek festival of Lenaia also has indirect associations with winter solstice which were incorporated into the Roman Brumalia or "shortest day", but Lenaia itself isn't associated with the traditional themes of the winter solstice.)

Among many peoples the winter solstice is celebrated as the return of the light, or the rebirth of the sun. Diwali, Yule, Amaterasu's return (the Shinto sun goddess), Christ's birth (the light of the world), Hanukkah, Hogmanay, Lucia, Modranicht, Saturnalia, and Sol Invictus are all celebrated at this time of year with the same general theme. (For a complete list see this Wiki article.)

Athena is many things, but a goddess of "light" or "the sun" she is not. That role is filled in the Greek pantheon by Apollo. Apollo and Athena have a relationship alluded to by their symbols (owls of Athena, fed by mice of Apollo, and mobbed by his crows; serpent-beings such as Typhon, Erichthonios, and Medusa) their relationship in myth (Athena sides with Apollo in the Oresteia, much to the chagrin of the Furies of mother-right) and the fact that they are often mentioned as part of a trinity (with Zeus) of the most powerful and "most Greek" of the gods.

Karl Kerenyi takes this relationship a step further, citing Aristole via Clement of Alexandria. He states boldly that Apollo is Erichthonios, the divine child conceived by Hephaestus's botched seduction of Athena. To quote Kerenyi:

There was a secret tradition concerning him (Erichthonios), which Aristotle exposed and later systematizers of Greek mythology after him retained. According to this, Athene is explicitly assigned a son by Hephaistos with the name Apollon, and the two of them are described as protective Deities (tutela and custos) of the city of Athens. An inscription in the vicinity of the city celebrates Apollon with the epithet Hersos, which associates him (as divine child) with the Erechtheion. If the reading of "Lethe" in a passage by Plutarch is correct, then there stood in this same sanctuary an altar to the recognized mother of Apollon, who instead of openly being name Leto was hidden behind a playful pseudonym. Shining through all this mystery is a "sun child," neither more nor less sunlike than Apollon himself on Delos.

Kerenyi goes on to explain how the Athenian Arrephoria festival, a great deal of the festival cycle in Athens, and the construction of the temples on the Acropolis relate directly to the veneration of this "sun child" and his mother, the Virgin Athena.

And so tonight, as the sun is reborn from darkness, I honor Athena Parthenos, Athena Soteria, Athena Mother of the Sun/Son.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thoughts on a Maxim

Know thyself! A maxim as pernicious as it is ugly. Whoever observes himself arrests his own development. A caterpillar who wanted to know itself well would never become a butterfly. ~Andre Gide

"Know thyself" is the most common translation of (arguably) the most famous of the Delphic Maxims. The Delphic Maxims are inscribed at Apollo's Temple in Delphi and are said to have been delivered by Apollo Himself. The Maxims are suggestions for pious living rather than commandments. According to legend, they were written down by The Seven Sages who are usually identified as: Solon of Athens, Chilon of Sparta, Thales of Miletus, Bias of Priene, Cleobulus of Lindos, Pittacus of Mitylene and Periander of Corinth.

Now, I've had trouble reconciling myself to some of the maxims in the past, but this was not one of them. When a friend posted the Gide quote above earlier this week it forced me to question a concept that I had not even realized I had accepted without question.

I will readily admit that choosing to investigate my thoughts on this subject seem to support the very foundations of the maxim "Know Thyself", but I'll leave that paradox aside here for the sake of further exploration.

Would a caterpillar who wanted to know itself never become a butterfly? Does it do harm to the development of my butterfly/psyche to hold it under constant scrutiny? I can understand how that could be perceived as the case. My illness, bipolar disorder, thrives on the constant narration and criticism of my mind about my daily activities. I achieve a certain state of grace when I meditate singularly on my breath and not on the chatter and self-talk of my mind.

Perhaps in chastising "Know Thyself" Gide was recalling that old adage about not staring too long into the abyss lest it stare back into you. We observe ourselves, and observe ourselves observing ourselves. We see flaws that mirror back at us like the abyss, like the demons of the Goetia. We see strengths that we hold ourselves up by. We create an identity based not on who we are being, but on what we are perceiving ourselves to be.

It is important to note that "Know Thyself", although a popular translation, is only that, a translation. The maxim itself is Σαυτον ισθι which can also be translated as "Be Yourself", the advice given to us by our mothers and countless characters on Sesame Street. "Be Yourself" is a much kinder way to live than "Know Thyself". It challenges us to discover our True Will, to ultimately become whatever sort of butterfly we are intended to be.

*gets out Thelemic soapbox (it is composed of two perfect cubes and is exactly at navel height for everyone)*

Therefore, damned for a dog be "Know Thyself". There is no law beyond Do What Thou Wilt. Be Yourself. Love is the Law, Love Under Will.

A Yuletide Carol

We've been listening to holiday music this week at work. I find it soothing, uplifting, inspiring... but it also causes me a bit of melancholy. I want Pagan songs for what I feel is a very strongly Pagan holiday. Shades of Paganism live in carols like "The Holly and the Ivy" and "Deck the Halls", but what about the miracle of Solstice? Isn't Solstice the real reason for the season?

With that in mind, I listened admiringly to the sweeping carol "O Holy Night". It is a beautiful, grand, and celebratory song of praise and wonder. I felt, well... jealous. And then something wonderful came over me, whole and pleasing. The muse brought me this filk of that carol today, and now I share it with you.

O Solstice Night
(to the tune of O Holy Night)

O Solstice night,
The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the Sun God's rebirth.

Long lay the world,
In cold and darkness pining,
Till He was born and His light warmed the Earth.

O thrill of hope!
The weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Lift up your hearts!
O hear the ancient voices!
O night divine!
O night the Sun is born.

O night divine!
O night, O night divine!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bringing Owls to Athens

It is difficult to picture the symbols of Athena without noting her constant avian companion the Athene noctua, or Little Owl. The Little Owl is sometimes seen as an aspect of Athena herself, and historians relate how Greek generals would keep a tame owl to release amid a heated battle in order to encourage his troops that Athena was with them.

In western culture the owl is interpreted as a symbol of wisdom. Scholars debate if this is due to the owl's fixed human-like gaze, or its ancient associations with Athena. But, which came first, the owl-as-wisdom-goddess or Athena herself, who came to be associated with owls?

Goddess figures with characteristics similar to Athena have existed since before recorded history. Marija Gimbutas traces veneration of the owl as a goddess, among other birds, to the culture of the Pre Indo-Europeans (PIE). From Sumeria comes the Burney Relief, dated around 1750 BCE, depicting a helmeted Goddess flanked by owls. Unfortunately, we can only guess at the significance of these icons, and cannot therefore conclude that they have any direct association to a Goddess of Wisdom.

So how did Athena become associated with the Little Owl? One clue lies in the ancient proverb "bringing owls to Athens". Although many scholars state that the "owls" of Athens were its famous tetradrachms. These silver coins depicted Athena's profile of the face, and her Little Owl with an olive branch on the reverse. Presumably, because Athens minted these coins themselves, there was little need to bring more silver to the city.

A more ancient interpretation of the proverb points to the significance of the first Parthenon, built by Xerxes I. One of the noted features of this early temple to Athena were its lofty rafters. In these rafters nested many generations of Athene noctua. The Athenians took this as a sign that Athena was present in the temple, and the birds were welcome there. Therefore, it was foolish to "bring owls to Athens", as they were already famous for their flock on the Acropolis.

Did the owls of the Parthenon influence the symbolism of Athena so much that she became forever associated with the Little Owl, or was the association already present before the building of the old Parthenon, so that the birds were simply seen as Athena's blessing?

Could it be a bit of both? One of Athena's most famous epitaphs is Athena Glaukopis, which is gleaming, silver, or gray-eyed Athena. Glaux itself means owl, so that even her name "A-Thea-na Glaux-Kopis" can be read "Holy Lady with Owl Eyes". Very early images of Athena sometimes depict her with bird wings in the place of the Aegis. Nike, often called Athena Nike, another of Athena's epitaphs, retained her wings into recorded history. Could these wings point to an early connection to the owl? Are they vestiges of the PIE owl Goddess?

When looking to Athena's association with the Gorgons, Monstropedia points out:
"The large eyes of the Gorgon, as well as Athena's flashing eyes, are a symbol Gimbutas termed "the divine eyes", appearing also in Athena's bird, the owl. They can be represented by spirals, wheels, concentric circles, and other ways. They radiate the sun's rays and weep the spring rains. Snakes also possess the eyes. The fangs of the gorgoneion are snakes' fangs. Snakes are a symbol of propitiation and increase. The round face is the moon. Sometimes gorgoneia are endowed with birds' feet or bee wings, more symbols of regeneration. The mouth is open so that streams may flow from it. The lolling tongue is a symbol of death. It cannot be said that these motifs belong exclusively to the European Neolithic and not to the Indo-Europeans. They appear among the Celts and Germans] as well. The Balts kept snakes as household pets. As Gimbutas points out, masks with staring eyes are portrayed in Paleolithic cave art. Very likely, the goddess precedes any Indo-European/non-Indo-European distinction."
Owl eyes, snakes, (as on the Aegis and found throughout PIE art) bees, fresh streams of water, the moon, the labrys, the olive tree... Athena's ancient symbols are varied and point to a strong connection to an indigenous PIE Goddess figure.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Back to the Blogging Board

The other day I was reading my boss's blog, and enjoying it thoroughly, when I realized it hadn't been updated since July of 2009. I thought, "I should really encourage her to get back to writing in her blog" when the irony of the fact I haven't been keeping up with my own blog hit me. When I asked her about her abandoned webspace she defended herself with "Oh, I just don't have anything to write about." Which I promise you is not true. Even if the library wasn't going through a complete overhaul of our cataloging and circulation system (which we are) the day-today workings of a public library leave ample room for all manner of interesting anecdotes. I appreciated her sentiment, though. I, too, have not written recently for what I deemed lack of subject matter. I haven't done anything new/groundbreaking/vaguely interesting to anyone with Athena worship in a while, and, with the season of the Witch upon us, I've been poking around in Cochrane's letters and wishing I had the gumption to actually follow the Spiral Castle Tradition full time.

What is the Spiral Castle Tradition, you ask? Gentle reader, allow me to introduce you to a Tradition of Witchcraft in the 1734/Clan of Tubal Cain mold that Laurelei and I created whole hog from immersing ourselves in the Robert Cochrane letters and Graves' seminal The White Goddess. It is a ecstatic mystery tradition with legitimate roots in British Traditional Witchcraft. It is a three-degree initiatory tradition, although we make no claims of succession to anyone, apostolic, or otherwise. Our calendar is based on the eight festival cycle, along side a lunar calendar related to tree-months and totemic animal cycles. The central Deities of the tradition are the Red God: Tubal Cain, and two Goddesses, the White and the Black. Note 7/18/2011: We're blogging about it here.

Is anyone actually a part of this oh-so-nifty tradition? Well, sort of. I mean, if you count myself and Laurelei. I currently practice the tradition when it suits me, along with the Athenian festival calendar (when it pertains directly to Athena) and Thelemic practices including Liber Resh vel Helios and the Star Ruby (because who doesn't love using Greek in ceremonial magick?). So , yeah, my spiritual practices have been very *ahem* eclectic as of late. This is in addition to my loose studies in Goddess/feminist spirituality such as the Women's Goddess Retreat. I just can't seem to focus on one thing, which is probably why, although I am filled with good intentions to mentor to the local occult community, the student have thus far not appeared.

I have grand plans for all of these irons in the fire. I've started three different books, but none of them are anywhere near completion. The first, Under Her Aegis, is my attempt at a guide to the modern worship of Athena. The next is an untitled book on Thelemic Witchcraft. I can hear you laughing, but really, Gardnerian Wicca owes a huge debt to Crowley, and the promulgation of Thelema in the New Aeon has found its most vital medium in NeoPaganism. The systems compliment each other very well. The third work is a monstrosity I fear I will never finish. It is my attempt to distill my collected knowledge of Witchcraft into a single book. I see it as my Great Work, and, because of that, I wonder if it is even meant to be completed. It is more than a simple Book of Shadows. On my best days I see it as a greatly expanded volume in the spirit of Huson's classic Mastering Witchcraft.

All of this, and I still intend to go back to library school. I have always had lofty aspirations -- a good trait in an occultist.

Life is not all coven-planning and writing the next great treatise on Witchcraft. I fret over seeing my family for Thanksgiving later this week. I worry about our Yuletide gift-giving budget. I go to work happily and hope that the forthcoming new catalog and circulation system will run well and smoothly.

And, hopefully, I continue to blog. :)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Layne Redmond's "Your Brain on Drums"

This is an excerpt from Layne Redmond's film Rhythmic Wisdom. It combines Shamanism, Greek Religion, theta wave consciousness and the history of the wonderful frame drum. If you would like to learn more, read her book When the Drummers Were Women and view this instructional video.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Have you ever stumbled unintentionally over just the right thing at the perfect time? I am inclined to agree with Helen Schulman who said:
"Miracles are natural; when they do not occur, something has gone wrong."

To wit, I was shelving books at the library a few days ago when I spied a volume I've never heard of: When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm by Layne Redmond. I'm familiar with some of Ms. Redmond's work, but I didn't know she had written a book. I checked out the book and brought it home for perusal.

Holy Cow! (and I mean that in the Catal Huyuk/Hathor/Milky Way sense) Frame drums are amazing! The history of this instrument ties together several threads I've been working with independently of each other. It covers matrifocal Goddess culture, which is very much where my interest spiritually has been lately; shamanistic practice, which is something I've been researching for the last year; and rhythm, which (and this is a little embarrassing) I've been working with intensively during my down time as a "drummer" on the Rock Band video game.

Laura just happens to have a frame drum which she says I am welcome to use, so I believe I've been called to learn a new instrument!

Instances like this make me wonder if there is something to pronoia, "the suspicion the Universe is a conspiracy on your behalf". Right now I like to think so.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Colors of Athena

And now for some lighter fare.

I've been working with different epitaphs of Athena and making notes of their subtle differences. Most noticeable in these visions has been the various colors of Athena's peplos. And so, presented here as completely Unverified Personal Gnosis, are a few of Athena's epithets and their corresponding colors.

Athena Areia (war) - scarlet
Athena Ergane (crafts) - pale saffron yellow
Athena Glaukopis (gleaming, silver, or gray-eyed; glaux means owl) - shifting dove gray
Athena Hygieia (healer) - white
Athena Nike (victory) - deep yellow
Athena Pallas (spear brandisher) - garnet red
Athena Parthenos (virgin) - brilliant white
Athena Polias (city) - white with elaborate trim
Athena Promachos (fighter of the front lines) - garnet red
Athena Pronoia (foresight) - pale yellow
Athena Soteira (savior) - brilliant white
Athena Tritogeneia (born of Triton, or third-born) - deep silver gray

From this UPG I have devised a system of visualization and shrine adornment that focuses on specific aspects and traits associated with Athena.

White: Athena as healer, savior, protector, and eternal virgin.
Yellow: Athena as creatrix, holy wisdom, intellect, craftsmanship and victory.
Red: Athena as warrior, weapons master, and patron of heroes.
Silver/Gray: Athena as spirit of stormy sky, fresh water, olives, serpents, and owls.

I also associate Athena strongly with the color bronze because of her involvement with the Khalkeia festival. Often I perceive her weapons, helm, tools, and aegis to be bronze. Occasionally, especially when working with the "gray aspect" of Athena, I perceive her skin itself to be a shade of bronze.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on these associations, and would love to hear from you if you should choose to incorporate them into your personal practice.

Monday, July 12, 2010

133.33 and the Librarian Occultist

I am vexed, dear reader. It will come as no shock to you that I'm a librarian. I'm upfront about it right here in the "About Me" blurb on my blog: "I'm a librarian, a Hellenic Polytheist, a Traditional Wiccan, and an occultist." I first started working a library when I was in high school and I am now seeking my Master's degree in Library Science.

The overlap between my passion for libraries and my passion for occultism doesn't come up very often. True, I do see my work as a librarian as an abstract way of honoring the power of Athena, but I am "in the broom closet" at work. I am happy to serve quietly in my own way.

My frustration comes from a kind of open secret among the librarians I have known concerning occult literature. The secret is that books on occultism walk. What I mean by this is that these books (133.33 in the Dewey Decimal classification system) once checked out from the library never find their way back to the library. Often these books are not even checked out, but are blatantly stolen from the library. Go to any public library and examine the 133.33 section (it is an old habit of mine that I always go there first whenever I am in a new library). You will find it to be sadly lacking.

I've witnessed several responses to this dilemma. Some libraries choose to keep occult materials in a special "restricted" section, usually behind the circulation desk where they cannot be stolen outright. Other libraries keep the books as reference materials only so that they cannot be checked out. Still other libraries, and this breaks my heart, have elected to not carry occult materials at all. This is, of course, censorship, even if the library feels that it has no other course of action.

I have wondered for many years just who these occult book bandits are. The public library systems I have worked in have all been in very conservative rural communities. Is it rebellious teenagers looking for the small thrill of lifting a Wicca 101 book, or is it the rabid Christian fiction reading matrons attempting to save their community from "Satan"?

Who benefits from this form of censorship? Certainly not sincere seekers like the one I assisted earlier this week. Our online catalog showed twenty books on astrology, all of them listed as "long overdue" or "lost processing". The poor man simply wanted to know the stories behind the zodiac signs. I wanted very much to share with him the information orally, but, again, I am closeted at work and feared drawing attention to myself.

I am at a loss for a solution to this problem. Here at home I've enchanted my own personal library (which would make anyone with even a passing interest in witchcraft green with envy) so that any book loaned out (which, granted, only ever happens with those I trust implicitly) will find its way back home to me. The task of enchanting a public library collection seems daunting at best, and brings up some gray ethical issues for me.

I dream of someday directing a library filled with controversial books. Dangerous books. Books that open the reader's mind. For now I work quietly and wonder where have all the occult books gone?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Creating the Women's Goddess Retreat

I wrote previously about my experience of running the Babalon Rising festival for its fifth year. I compared it to a child, grown beyond the scope of my own dreams. It has become something that the community it spawned needs and shapes. Let me then speak of my other child, not yet two years old and only just now developing into what it can be. I am referring to the annual Women's Goddess Retreat, an event that I am very proud to have birthed, and that changed me in ways I never thought possible.

The retreat started as a vision. It came from Hera, who I had no prior working relationship with. I'd read an interview with Tina Fey about her film Mean Girls and the book that inspired it, Queen Bees and Wannabes. It had occurred to me that communities, especially religiously motivated communities thrived only when the women in them worked together to build a place they were spiritually, emotionally, and physically invested in. I had been disheartened by the cliquish gossiping that was going on at my own spiritual home, Our Haven Nature Sanctuary, and I knew that I was as responsible as anyone for the present female animosity there.

My friend Anita, who has always been a great guiding force of growth in my life, had loaned me a book about women on retreat, The Woman's Retreat Book by Jennifer Louden. This book made me hungry -- jealously starving -- for a retreat of my own. I fantasized about a week alone at Crescent Beach, FL with time to write and paint and nap. I told myself that if I could just get away that I'd find the next step on my spiritual journey, and that, like magic, I'd suddenly know exactly what I wanted from my life. No one ever accused me of being an entirely rational creature.

And then Hera showed up. She came in a vision requesting, no, demanding that I put together a women's retreat in her honor. I hadn't really considered the idea of a group retreat before. How could I do the very self-involved navel-gazing that I dreamed of when I was facilitating a group of other women? And what would a retreat centered around Hera look like anyway? I imagined a group of ladies lounging by a pool, fanning themselves with peacock feathers.

Again, Anita had a solution. The retreat would honor Hera, yes, but it would also honor other Goddesses from different cultures around the world. I pinned the number at thirteen Goddesses, for the thirteen lunar cycles of the year. We would hold a circle for each Goddess, during which we would learn a little about Her mythology and worship. We would then invoke that Goddess and share in an activity together designed to teach us a life lesson that Goddess shared. I set the circles at two hours each, and determined that each woman would receive a journal to record her experiences in. This was as much for myself as anyone -- I wanted time to do my share of navel-gazing, after all!

Anita and Laurelei helped me flesh out the group of thirteen. The Goddesses we held circles for were:
  • Shakti ~ The Lessons of Inner Awareness, & Healing Ourselves
  • Diana ~ The Lessons of Owning your Power, & Finding Inner Strength
  • Hera ~ The Lessons of Dignity, Friendship, & Trust
  • Pele ~ The Lessons of Tending the Sacred Fire & Staying Centered
  • Gaia ~ The Lessons of Interconnectedness & Being Present
  • Aphrodite ~ The Lessons of True Beauty & Self-Love
  • Babalon ~ The Lessons of Sexual Freedom & Bottomless Love
  • Hathor ~ The Lessons of Celebration & Sacred Movement
  • Inanna ~ The Lessons of the Shadow-Self & Initiation
  • Brigid ~ The Lessons of Mythic Resonance & Bardic Magick
  • The Triple Goddess ~ The Lessons of Women's Cycles & Change
  • Sophia ~ The Lessons of Inner Wisdom & The Powers of The Sphinx
  • The Great Goddess ~ The Lesson of the Charge of the Goddess
Anita couldn't make it to the actual retreat, so we asked a handful of trusted friends to help present the circles for a few select Goddesses. Gina, our Firepanther, shared Pele's fire with us. Terri, Cricket to her friends, lead us on a mind-expanding trip around Gaia. My beloved friend Mary "Hummingbird" lead a moving circle to Brigid. The remaining Goddesses Laurelei and I divided up to share. Laurelei introduced us to Shakti through the use of mudras to move energy. When we began the yoni mudra our stories began to pour forth along with tears and laughter. If I had any doubts that we wouldn't be doing real internal soul work, they were quickly set aside. Under Laurelei's guidance Diana gave us each our own spiritual weapon of power. She taught us to see how beautiful we are when we share our smile and our love through Aphrodite's mirror. We danced a graceful and joyful circle for Hathor.

I lead circles for Hera, Babalon, Inanna, The Triple Goddess, and Sophia. Hera taught us the lesson that inspired the retreat, how to trust each other. Babalon's sexy energy had us all laughing and purring. I wrote an involved guided meditation for Inanna that lead each of us to embrace our shadow-self, while Laurelei gave us a Jungian tour through the Heroine's Journey. The Triple Goddess came out in full force, and seems to be the guiding presence for the upcoming retreat for this year. Sophia shared with us the powers to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to Keep Silent through a silent portion of the retreat.

Laurelei and I built a shrine in the woods for the Great Goddess. Our circle chanted "Ancient Mother" as women went in pairs to visit the shrine and meet the Great Goddess. When Laurelei and I had our turn we wept for joy and wonder, in spite of the fact that we knew exactly what the "mystery" of the shrine was -- we had placed it there ourselves, after all.

After the retreat I continued to use my journal daily until it was full. It got me writing again, in a way I haven't done in years. My writing inspired me to begin a book, Under Her Aegis, which I am still working on. My writing also lead me to understand my passions, and brought me to a place where I knew I wanted to be a librarian. It even inspired me to start this blog. I felt, after the retreat, as if I had brought something useful and necessary into this world. For the first time in my life I felt like a mother rather than a maiden. I will have no biological children of my own, and this transition was remarkable for me.

This year the Women's Goddess Retreat is changing its form. There are fewer Goddess circles and more time for personal reflection. There are also many rituals designed as rites of passage for several of the women in attendance. These women came forward independently of their own accord asking for rites of croning for themselves, and rites of womaning for their daughters. We are blessed this year with three croning ceremonies and one womaning rite. The retreat is becoming what I hoped it might be, a place for our community of women to come together and work with a common spirit.

The Goddesses for this year are:
  • Hestia ~ The Lessons of Finding Sacred Space & Returning Home
  • Grandmother ~ The Lessons of Inner Awareness, & Moving Energy
  • Brigid ~ The Lessons of Mythic Resonance & Bardic Magick
  • The Morrigan ~ The Lessons of the Warrior Spirit & Healing from Trauma
  • Athena ~ The Lessons of Peacemaking & Deep Wisdom
  • Discordia ~ The Lessons of Celebration & Spontaneity
  • Freya ~ The Lessons of Love & Women's Magic
  • Sedna ~ The Lessons of Role-Shifting & Adaptation
  • The Great Goddess ~ The Lesson of the Ultimate Boon
I will be facilitating the circles for Hestia and, yes of course, Athena. I am especially looking forward to Grandmother's circle, as we will be having an all-women's sweat lodge ceremony in Her honor. Also new this year we will be creating a Goddess quilt from 12x12 inch quilt blocks that each participant bring with her. We will assemble the quilt blocks on site.

I am proud to have brought this retreat into being, and I am nurtured and changed by it in ways I never imagined. Thank you for letting me share some of its magic with you, gentle reader.

My Journey to Athena

 How did I, a Witch and a Thelemite, become a Hellenic Polytheist? It has been a winding road.

Three years ago I began to open myself to the wisdom of the Greek pantheon. I had made a pilgrimage (hopefully the first of many) to the Nashville Parthenon, where I was struck with wonder at the awesome power of Athena for the first time.

I've worked with Owl as a primary totem since I was a dabbling teenager, my magical working name has always been Latin for the little owl, but I was not yet ready to accept that Athena had a place of prominence in my life. I had worked with the Goddess Lilith for many years with mixed results, and I resisted the Greek Gods as the stuff of my childhood. I had worshiped them when I was barely ten years old. They were my first forays into Paganism. Their myths were taught in public school. I sniffed at their commonness in my life. I was too blinded my the allure of the exotic to understand that what I mistook for commonness was nearness and affinity.

When Laurelei came into my life a year later she brought an enthusiasm for Aphrodite that was alluring. She also brought up some rather nasty conflicts whenever I channeled Lilith. My relationship with Lilith had been wearing thin for some time. She is wise, powerful, beautiful... but also jealous, cruel, and rapacious. Although I knew that ours was a poor relationship it was one I had cultivated over many years, and my own personal mystical symbolism had become intertwined with Lilith's. Owls, snakes, the Burney Relief, the apple, the Tree of Life, the cloak of protection offered by Her dark wings... these were ingrained in the very fabric of my spirit.

It seems now as if I had all of the pieces that should have led me naturally to Athena, yet still I resisted. I began to have visions of Hera, both waking and in dreams. She asked, no, she demanded that I found a women's retreat. I began work on that project, and it changed my life.

Then one night I had the dream. She was huge. Massive. As grand in scale as She was in Nashville. And yet, I could look Her in the eyes. She wore a garnet red peplos and carried a bronze spear that seemed to also serve as a spindle. Her hair was long, dark, and tightly kinked, like that of an African beauty. Her skin was rich bronze. She had a narrow full lipped mouth set above a strong round chin, a very noble high set nose that jutted forcefully from Her forehead. Her cheekbones were high and Her face was a gentle oval set upon a long regal neck. But what I will never forget, what is a blessing that will stay with me all of my life, was Her eyes.

They were deep set and very wide. Unblinking, steady, and shifting in color. One moment they were liquid sliver, like mercury, the next they were stormy, full of dark clouds and flashing lightning. Then Her eyes were the dark milky midnight blue of a barred owl's, and then the sea green of a deep pool or a "blue hole". When I think of them now my heart sings "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", so brilliant do they sparkle, so much like the heavens they shine. They were all eyes I had ever admired. The eyes of the National Geographic Afghan Girl, the eyes of a boy I knew in high school, the eyes of my mother and my father, the stylized eyes of the Buddha, eyes of timelessness, eyes gray with the silvery gray wisdom of the sphere of Chokmah. Athena Glaukopis, I would later learn was Her proper name.

She said nothing. She didn't need to. In my heart I felt that She had always been with me, that it was Her mark that had left strange symbols in my soul... owls, snakes, the Burney Relief, the golden apple, the olive tree, the cloak of protection offered by Her aegis, the burning, blinding quest for knowledge that defines me. Athena abides and perceives. I am honored to serve Her.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Moody June

June has been a rewarding but exhausting month. I've been ill twice, and now that I am well I find myself combating a bout of depression. Meh.

For the fifth year in a row I've helped put on the Babalon Rising Festival, and, as always, I come away from it not know what to say about it. The event is excellent, even if I am blowing by own trumpet, and it gets bigger and more powerful every year. Babalon Rising is a festival primarily for Thelemites, although we have a large NeoPagan and New Orleans Voodoo component. The festival itself is designed to be a continuous four-day ritual, with its climax on Saturday night during an event we've named The Feast of the Beast. We've been working the festival annually as a trip up the Tree of Life, which made this our Tiphereth year. Accordingly, the sun came out in full force, and I spent much of the event with heat exhaustion. Good things prevailed, however. I assisted in facilitating a Qadishti sacred touch event, and served as one of the multiple women who invoked Babalon during the climatic ritual. I helped run, and eventually took over, our annual Kabbalah Bar event, which involves providing sepherotic themed body shots off of a living Tree of Life. The gifted and delightful Louis Martine led a wonderful ritual to help clear the Gulf of oil. I don't think I've ever heard a better drum circle than we had Saturday night.

I love Babalon Rising, but it is like my child who has grown and moved on to things I never knew it could be. I consider myself lucky to be its parent, and ready to support it in whatever way it needs me each year. But it does not nurture me. The magic it represents is in a place that I like to visit sometimes, but I do not live there anymore. I've become more solitary, and maybe even a little jaded in my own approach to magic. I'll always be a witch at heart, but I'm in a place right now where serving the Gods interests me far more than rituals, potions, and pretty magic. My sense of wonder rests firmly with the Gods these days, and less and less with my own Will or ego. This has less to do with personal growth, I think, than with sheer exhaustion. I am no longer the Mage in her circle commanding the universe to bend. I am trying harder to bend with the universe.

I helped Laurelei with an Aphrodisia ritual during the festival, and it was lovely. I find much that is beautiful and comforting to my spirit in Greek ritual and myth. I was the hydrophoros for the pompe, carrying my beloved Goddess amphora. Laurelei established a stunning shrine to Aphrodite on the Our Haven grounds and we held the ritual there.

The Arrephoria happened in June. It is one of Athena's most important festivals, and is usually a big deal in our household as it combines mysteries of both Athena and Aphrodite. Alas, I was very ill during the Arrephoria, and did little more than burn some incense in tribute this year. Athena understands my lack of observance, of course, but I've been internally berating myself over it all month. The whole truth is that I've been internally berating myself about everything this month. I've entered a depression, which is a classic and expected component of my being Bipolar I. My medicines do an excellent job of keeping me in a sane and acceptable middle range of mood and productivity, but even they cannot keep me from dipping a little low or flying a little too high ever now and again.

Depression for me is a lack of creative flow, a general sense of impending dread, and an urge to sleep around eighteen hours a day. You can see why I haven't blogged much this month. I haven't touched my manuscript either, nor my paints, nor yarn. Athena is understanding. Look at the famous relief "Athena Mourning" and you can see that sometimes her heart hangs heavy as well.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Plynteria is here!

I've been looking forward to Plynteria for weeks!

Plynteria, along with Kallynteria, are Athenian festivals of purification associated with Athena. The Kallynteria was celebrated on Thargelion 25, which is June 6-7. Kallynteria is the "festival of sweeping". It was a thorough cleaning of Athena's temple by women under the direction of Athena's priestess. The priestess also refills and relights Athena’s eternal flame in the temple. Kallynteria is an excellent day to refresh your Athena shrine or just erect one.

Kallynteria is followed by Plynteria, the "festival of washing". During Plynteria the cult icon of Athena was divested of its peplos and veiled. The icon was then carried by women in a pompe to the ocean where it was ritually bathed. The pompe was led by a woman carrying a basket of figs. Two girls, the Loutride, or bathers, washed the icon in salt water. In the evening the icon was returned to the temple in a torchlight procession and was re-clothed in her peplos. Only the Loutrides and the women who dress and undress the Goddess are permitted to see Her naked.

The ancient statue of Athena Polis at Athens was of human size or less, carved of olive wood, and probably showed the Goddess seated without weapons. She wore a tall, golden stephane (crown) and She may have had a Gorgoneion (Medusa head) on her breast.

Plynteria was a time that was considered apophras, or unfortunate, because the icon of Athena Polis was not guarding the city.

Tomorrow I'll be veiling my own icon of Athena and escorting her down to the pond where I will ritually bathe Her. After the bathing I will clean and rearrange my shrine to Her, light an oil lamp to symbolize Her eternal flame, and return the icon to its place on the shrine.

Here are some links for further information on Kallynteria and Plynteria.

Kali Plynteria!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Agora and Hypatia

After what feels like an eternity the Alejandro Amenábar film “Agora”, based on the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, is finally seeing a limited release in American theaters this weekend. Rachel Weisz, who won my undying affection in the role of Evelyn Carnahan the plucky librarian in The Mummy, plays the role of Hypatia.

Agora has had a difficult time of being shown in the U.S. as The Wild Hunt Blog details here.

Hypatia is my hero. It feels fitting to me that she would come to America for our Memorial Day celebration, as this is the holiday when we honor our fallen heroes. Hellenics take stock in hero worship, and in my heart there is no hero of myth, legend, or history that shines quite like Hypatia.

Hypatia was a scholar, a teacher, a Neoplatonist philosopher, and, yes, a librarian. Her brutal death at the hands of an angry Christian mob marks the end of Classical antiquity.

My response to the horror of Hypatia's martyrdom is as close as I have ever felt to the feeling certain Christians attribute to meditation on the Passion of Christ. Hypatia has her own stations of the cross...

There she rides on her chariot, proud to be an independent educated woman in a time of increasing oppression and superstition. Now the mob interrupts her congress. They pull her down. Her robes are torn from her body. Her head smashes against the stone street rock. They beat her. They tear at her flesh with shards of oyster shells. They burn the ragged remains of her broken corpse. Who does she cry out for? In all of her studies concerning the goodness and richness of humanity did she ever fear that fate held such a cruel end for her by the hands of her own kind? Does her heart weep for their ignorance?

My heart weeps. Hypatia was murdered as a sign to all women who dared to live proudly, who longed for wisdom and freedom. She was battered as if she herself were a pagan goddess, brought low by this dark and fearful new religion.

This memorial day I encourage you to find and honor your own heroes, ancient, modern, or mythical. Tell their stories, adorn their altars, pour to them offerings. Honor the place within you that cries out for peace.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Athena and Medusa

I have applied to be an Exegetai of Athena through Neokoroi. Part of the process of admittance includes the submission of two articles to their newsletter He Epistole. I shared my first article, Virgin Athena, here. Included below is the second article, with many inspirational thanks to the divine Thalia Took, who just happened to draw Medusa as the Goddess of the Week!

Athena and Medusa

In most myths Athena comes across as a gentle Goddess whose punishments are rare and just. This is not the case with the tale of Medusa. On the surface Athena's relationship with Medusa seems cruel and self-serving, very different from her relationships with other figures of mythology, but further investigation proves there is more going on between the two figures than the myth readily admits.

Medusa's story is a sad one. She was a lovely girl, often compared favorably to the goddess Athena. Medusa's beauty drew the unfortunate and unwanted attention of Poseidon. Medusa fled to a temple of Athena seeking sanctuary from the sea god's advances through prayers to virginal Athena. Poseidon found Medusa in the temple and raped her. As punishment for this desecration of her temple Athena transformed Medusa into a gorgon, a hideous creature with snakes for hair whose gaze turned men to stone. Medusa was beheaded by the hero Perseus with the assistance of Athena. From her body sprung forth her sons by Poseidon, Pegasus the winged horse and Khrysaor. Athena then gathered blood from Medusa's corpse and placed the head of Medusa, the Gorgoneion, prominently upon her breastplate, the aegis.

Who was Medusa and why is her myth so entwined with that of Athena, who seems to only want to punsish her for a crime that she was not at fault for? Pausanias points out that Medusa was said to have been from Lake Tritonis in Libya, which was also sometimes cited as the birthplace of Athena under her epithet Athena Tritogeneia, or Triton-born. This same epithet, along with that of Athena Glaukopis, has been cited as evidence that Athena's father was in fact Poseidon, not Zeus. Pausanias states:

"When I saw that the statue of Athena had blue eyes I found out that the legend about them is Libyan. For the Libyans have a saying that the Goddess is the daughter of Poseidon and Lake Tritonis, and for this reason has blue eyes like Poseidon."
So, we have links to two mythological figures of Libyan origin near Lake Tritonis with links to Poseidon. Athena and Poseidon have a famous rivalry concerning patronage of Athens, but Athena was never raped by Poseidon, was she?

Amazingly enough, there is a story of Athena being raped by her father. Although he is not named Poseidon, a story by Lycophron states that Athena was the daughter of the winged giant Pallas who attempted to rape his lovely offspring. Athena defended herself against his advances and slew him. She flayed the giant, taking his wings for her own use and his skin as her aegis. Here it is the fatherly male and not the transformed young woman whose visage becomes the basis for the aegis.

What of Pallas's wings? In early depictions of Athena she is shown winged, notably in Sparta. These wings would later be placed on the shoulders of Nike, goddess of victory, who accompanied Athena and was sometimes referred to as Athena. The Gorgons were also winged, shown with the same curling quadrupled wings as early black-figure-vase images of Athena. Medusa famously gave birth to the winged horse Pegasus, who myth states that Athena bridled and tamed. Suidas makes the connection between Athena, daughter of Poseidon and tamer of horses clear:

"Hippeia Athene (Athena-of-Horses) : They say she is a daughter of Poseidon and Polyphe, daughter of Okeanos; she was the first to use a chariot and was called 'of-Horses' because of this."
Athena was raped by her father, who may have been Poseidon, just as Medusa was. These events took place on the shores of Lake Tritonis in Libya and lead to associations with wings and winged horses by both Medusa and Athena. Both transformed a mutilated piece of themselves or their attacker into the aegis. There are clear connections here between Medusa and Athena, but what about Medusa's most notable feature, that of her snaky hair? Does Athena have connections to snakes also, and if so, do they bear any echo of Medusa?

Athena's associations with snakes are second only to her legendary affinity for owls. She wears the snake-tasseled aegis, and was said to be the mother of Erikhthonios, who was either part or all snake. So damning was her association with the snake that she forbid anyone to look upon her serpentine son, lest they recognize that she was its mother. The Arrephoria ritual of Athens commemorates these events. Anciently the snake in Greece was seen as the protector of the home. It guarded the grain, much in the way a housecat would in later Europe. Several deities with home protection roles had serpent associations, such as Zeus Kestos. Athena was so associated with the protection of cities that she was viewed in abstract terms as a great serpent. Her aegis is covered in scales and ringed with snakes to reenforce this association.

Barbara Walker states in her Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets under the entry Gorgon that “Gorgo, Gorgon, or Gorgopis... was the title of Athene as a death goddess.” She links the name Medusa with that of Athena's mother Metis and states that she believes that Athena was worshiped as Medusa/Metis in Libya where she was the destroyer aspect of the Egyptian goddess Neith who was called Anath among the Phoenicians and Ath-enna in Libya and North Africa.

Jane Ellen Harrison argues that the Gorgoneion is nothing more than a ritual mask, perhaps worn by Libyan priestesses in rites related to wisdom and the moon. The Orphics refer to the moon as “The Gorgon's Head”. Amazingly, an ancient image of Athena shows her winged and holding a crescent moon.

The similarities between Athena and Medusa weave an obscured but revealing pattern. Athena could no more punish Medusa than she could punish herself. Medusa, it seems, is only another older face of the complex Goddess known to us under the names Anat, Neith, Metis, Medusa, and Athena.
Sources Cited:
Theoi Project: Athena
Theoi Project: Medusa & Gorgons
Gimbutas, Marija: The Language of the Goddess.
Walker, Barbara: The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets: Athena, Gorgon, Medusa
Wikipedia: Gorgoneion

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gardening Projects

May has been a busy month for me. I started this month at the Our Haven annual Beltane festival, where I danced the maypole and frolicked in the mud.

Laurelei and I have big plans for plantings throughout the grounds this year. First there is the Aphrodite shrine which Laurelei blogged about here. It is located within a growing hedge labyrinth which we started several years ago. We also have plans for a Dionysus shrine within the labyrinth, complete with grape arbors and statuary.

At another shrine on the grounds, the White Goddess shrine, located in the orchard where our cabin sits, we are going to plant climbing blue roses and moonflowers up the four trellises supporting the dome. I've included some photos of the shrine in this post. You can see our beloved cabin in the background.

I've been hard at work on the website for this year's Women's Goddess Retreat. I gave the site a full redesign and I'm pretty pleased with it. We've submitted a proposal to the Our Haven elders planning a Women's circle on the site. We've plans to add many plantings to the circle if it gets approved. We are considering starting with fairy roses and wisteria. We'd like to add several "womanish" herbs and plants to the area like motherwort and cohosh.

Here at home we're adding some lavender to our herb garden and many veggies to our food garden: strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, and cukes.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Anacreon Fragment

The love god with his golden curls
puts a bright ball in my hand,
shows a girl in her fancy shoes,
and suggests that I take her.

Not that girl -- she's the other kind,
one from Lesbos. Disdainfully,
nose turned up at my silver hair,
she makes eyes at the ladies.

-translated by Richmond Lattimore
Anacreon was a mid-sixth century Greek poet from the island of Teos. He is noted for writing almost exclusively about the pleasures of life, love, wine, and banquets.

I am flummoxed that even when faced with poetry fragments like the one above some people continue to doubt that lesbianism was known and practiced among the ancient Greeks. Even if you choose to read Sappho's heady verses inspired by young women as romantic friendship rather than frankly sexually charge poetry, you cannot deny that Anacreon understood lesbianism and even associated it with the isle of Lesbos.

Spring 2010 He Epistole

The Spring 2010 edition of Neokoroi's quarterly publication He Epistole has just been released. It contains an excellent article on Demeter Erinys by Suz Thackston and many other goodies. Many thanks to the He Epistole team for another excellent issue!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Words to Live By

I've been pondering the attributes that I takes to be a good Hellenic Polytheist, and the attributes that I value most within myself. Some practitioners of Hellenic Polytheism subscribe to the Metron, an ethics system of "Seven Pillars" which has been reconstructed in various forms. One of them follows:
  • Ethike Arete - the practice of habitual excellence (ethics)
  • Eusebia - reverence, loyalty, and sense of duty toward the Gods (of Greece)
  • Hagneia - the maintaining of ritual purity by avoiding miasma
  • Nomos Arkhaios - observance of ancient tradition, (religious) law, and customs
  • Sophia - the pursuit of wisdom, understanding, and truth
  • Sophrosune - the control of self through deep contemplation
  • Xenia - adherence to hospitality and the guest-host relationship
Laurelei has proposed a system of ethics for the Temple of Aphrodite that I find inspiring:
  • Kharis (grace and reciprocity)
  • Sophia (wisdom and understanding)
  • Eusebia (reverence and piety)
I've been involved in the Caliphate Ordo Templi Orientis for years and as a Thelemite I have some pretty strong Greek ideas of what is right and ethical:
  • Thelema (True Will)
  • Agape (Fraternal Love)
  • Eros (Romantic Love)

Invoke me under my stars! Love is the law, love under will. Nor let the fools mistake love; for there are love and love. There is the dove, and there is the serpent. Choose ye well! He, my prophet, hath chosen, knowing the law of the fortress, and the great mystery of the House of God.
- The Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, sub figura CCXX, as delivered by XCIII = 418 to DCLXVI, Chapter I, verse 57
And then there are the roughly 150 Delphic Maxims, most of which are reasonable, some of which are excellent, and a couple of which are patently ridiculous in modern society.

The good:
8. Be Yourself (Σαυτον ισθι)
15. Help your friends (Φιλοις βοηθει)
23. Long for wisdom (Σοφιαν ζηλου)
24. Praise the good (Καλον ευ λεγε)
25. Find fault with no one (Ψεγε μηδενα)
38. Nothing to excess (Μηδεν αγαν)
55. Give back what you have received (Λαβων αποδος)
56. Down-look no one (Υφορω μηδενα)
62. Praise hope (Ελπιδα αινει)
73. Be happy with what you have (Κτωμενος ηδου)
84. Make just judgments (Κρινε δικαια)
90. Live without sorrow (Αλυπως βιου)
93. Deal kindly with everyone (Φιλοφρονει πασιν)
106. Be grateful (Ευγνωμων γινου)
107. Pursue harmony (Ομονοιαν διωκε)
117. Acquire wealth justly (Πλουτει δικιως)
118. Do not abandon honor (Δοξαν μη λειπε)
124. Love whom you rear (Ους τρεφεις αγαπα)
126. Respect the elder (Πρεσβυτερον αιδου)
The bad:
9. Intend to get married (Γαμειν μελλε)
91. Live together meekly (Ομιλει πραως)
95. Rule your wife (Γυναικος αρχε)
132. Die for your country (Θνησκε υπερ πατριδος)
137. Grieve for no one (Μη επι παντι λυπου)
So how do I synthesize all of this into a workable system that won't drive me crazy? Here then is a personal Metron that I am trying to live by:

1. Kharis - grace and reciprocity
2. Sophia - the relentless pursuit of wisdom and understanding
3. Eusebia - reverence and piety to the theoi
4. Arete - excellence in deed, thought, word, and action
5. Thelema - the pursuit of my life's purpose and my Will
6. Sophrosune - moderation and temperance
7. Hagneia - ritual purity and avoidance of miasma

I think of Xenia as being a part of Kharis, and, as a Hellenic Polytheist rather than a reconstructionist, I hold no truck with Nomos Arkhaios. Rather, I value Thelema, which can be viewed as an outgrowth of Arete, but it has been so central to my own spiritual development that I've given it a pillar of its own. I believe that most of the Delphic Maxims can be sorted into one of these categories, and I'm pretty comfortable with holding myself to these standards.


The festival of Mounukhia is concurrent with Beltane this year (May 1, Mounkhion 16, near the full moon) and I will be up to my knees in mud at a pagan festival, so I thought I'd go ahead and share some information about Mounukhia a few days early.

The Mounukhia festival honors Artemis as her titles Potnia Theron (the Mistress of Beasts) and Artemis Fosforos (Artemis the Light-Bringer). It begins with a pompe in which the people carry round cakes in which small torches, or dadia, are stuck. These cakes are called amphiphontes (round-shining). They are offered to Artemis in thanks for the lives of beasts that were killed during the hunt, and for the light of the moon. Cupcakes studded with birthday candles make a simple and thoughtful substitute.
Mousa, sing of Artemis, sister of Hekatos (the far-shooter), Parthenos Iokheaira (the virgin who delights in arrows), who was fostered with Apollon. She waters her horses from Meles [a river in Lydia] deep in reeds, and swifty drives her all-golden chariot through Smyrna to vine-clad Klaros where Apollon Argyrotoxos (god of the silver bow), sits waiting for Hekatebolon Iokheaira (far-shooting delighter in arrows).
And so hail to you, Artemis, in my song and to all goddesses as well. Of you first I sing and with you I begin; now that I have begun with you, I will turn to another song.

~Homeric Hymn 9 to Artemis (trans. Evelyn-White)
Have a joyous Mounukhia!

Virgin Athena

I have applied to be an Exegetai of Athena through Neokoroi. Part of the process of admittance includes the submission of two articles to their newsletter He Epistole. I thought that the first one might be of interest to the blogosphere, so I am sharing it here.

Virgin Athena

Athena is famous in Greek mythology for being one of only three Goddesses who were considered “virgin”. It was said in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite that alone of all creation these three Goddesses, Hestia, Artemis, and Athena, were immune to the arrows of Eros and the seductive spell of Aphrodite. But for Athena being a virgin ran deeper than simple immunity to romance. Athena was, rather surprisingly, a mother figure in Classical Athens, and is linked to Hephaestos in what could be an ancient heiros gamos festival.

Athena's legendary virginity begins with conflicting stories of her birth. In the most famous version, attributed to Apollodorus, Athena is born fully grown from the head of her father Zeus. Zeus had been warned that his bride Metis, wise counsel, would bear him a child greater than himself, so he chose to swallow Metis whole. Nine months later he was stricken with a terrible headache that served as the birth pangs which brought Athena into existence. Just as later Catholics would claim that their divine virgin Mary was conceived Immaculately by the will of the Father God, so was Athena born, not of a womb or woman, but from the perfect mind of Zeus.

A second and less well known birth story comes to us from Lycophron, in which Athena was fathered the winged giant Pallas. This Pallas later attempted to rape his daughter. In a rage the young Athena killed her father and flayed him, taking his skin for her breastplate – the aegis – and his wings for her own use. In the oldest known depictions of Athena, such as at Sparta, she is shown winged. This was the first, but not the only threat to Athena's chastity in myth.

When Zeus ached and moaned with the labor pains that would bring forth Athena we are told that Hephaestos took up a labrys and split mighty Zeus's head asunder in order to release the pain. Thus, Hephaestos was the first of the theoi to catch a glimpse of the newly formed Athena. We can only guess from later events what Hephaestos must have thought when he saw the radiant goddess for the first time. Perhaps Eros launched one of his famous arrows at the lame craftsman. Maybe he was taken in by the earth-shaking war dance she performed immediately upon her birth. As a smith, he may have just been impressed with her excellent taste in armor, since she was born fully armed. In any case, Hephaestos desired Athena and contrived to win her for his wife.

After Hephaestos set out to trap his mother Hera in a golden throne he fashioned for her he demanded the prize of either Athena or Aphrodite as his wife, according to many sources, notably Hyginus. If Athena rejected his proposal it is not recorded. Regardless, Hephaestos won Aphrodite as his bride rather than Athena and according to Homer [Odyssey 8.267] he regretted the decision. Aphrodite proved to be a lovely but unfaithful wife and Hephaestos harbored secret lust for Athena.

Athena came to the forge of Hephaestos seeking arms. What she received instead, according to Apollodorus, was an attempted rape by Hephaestos. In disgust it was said that Athena wiped Hephaestos's semen from her thigh with a fillet of wool that she then flung to the ground. The fertile earth, Gaia, became pregnant by this seed and bore the child Erikhthonios, king of Athens. Gaia gave the boy to Athena, who she claimed was his true mother. Ashamed, Athena hid the growing child in a kista, or chest, that she kept in the folds of her aegis.

Why was Athena ashamed of Erikhthonios? Why would she keep his existence a closely guarded secret? Erikhthonios was said to have the form of a serpent from the waist down. Is this deformity alone enough to cause Athena to shut away her fosterling, and, where did Erikhthonios gain this peculiar serpentine aberration?
Since the earliest recorded times Athena has been identified with the snake. This is demonstrated in her serpent-tasseled aegis, and in her special role as the guardian of the city, just as the snake served in ancient Greece as a symbol for the guardian of the home. Athena has deep roots in the prehistoric craftswoman serpent and bird goddesses that Marija Gimbutas documented in her work. Just as Gaia claimed that Athena was the true mother of Erikhthonios, so do Erikhthonios's defining features point to Athena having been his mother.

Athena guarded Erikhthonios with obsessive caution. It was said by Pseudo-Apollodorus that she sent the kista he was kept in to Pandrosos, the daughter of Kekrops, forbidding her to open the chest. With curiosity that echoes the fall of Pandora – who Athena had a hand in making – Pandrosos opened the chest and beheld Erikhthonios, at the sight of which Athena drove Pandrosos mad. Pandrosos then flung herself to her death from the Acropolis. These horrible events were commemorated each year at the Athenian festival of the Arrephoria. During the Arrephoria maidens were given a secret kista at the temple of Athena on the Acropolis filled with “unspoken things”. The maidens were strictly admonished not to look inside of the kista but to deliver it to the garden shrine of Aphrodite, below the Acropolis. The maidens then returned to the temple of Athena bearing a second kista, also filled with secret contents, from the garden of Aphrodite. I have concluded that the kista bore knowledge of Erikhthonios as the son of Athena and Hephaestos, just as it held Erikhthonios himself when Pandrosos kept it. It is telling that Athena sends knowledge of Erikhthonios to Aphrodite, the wife of Hephaestos, whose charms and seductions she was supposed to be immune to.

Thus I have deduced that, just as Gaia claimed, Athena is the true mother of Erikhthonios, making her one of the number of that fabulous mythic trope of virgin mothers. But how chaste was Athena's relationship with Hephaestos? Were they ever linked beyond one incident of attempted rape? To answer these questions I look again to the festival cycle of Athens, this time to the festival of the Khalkeia, which translates to “bronze chamber”. The Khalkeia was a festival of Hephaestos and Athena as patrons of craftsmanship. Throughout Athens Athena and Hephaestos were paired. Athena has a statue in the Athenian temple of Hephaestos that overlooks the agora, while the ever-burning lamp in the temple of Athena Polis is regarded by Burkert and others as the presence of Hephaestos.

Karl Kerenyi deduces in his Athene: Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion that during the Khalkeia festival Athena and Hephaestos joined in a heiros gamos, or sacred marriage rite, in a bronze chamber. The month leading up to the Khalkeia was a time for young Athenians to prepare themselves for marriage. Athena even takes her “husband's” name in Robert Parker's Polytheism and society at Athens which lists Hephaisteia as one of Athena's epithets, specifically related to the Khalkeia festival.

The marriage of Athena and Hephaestos bore rich fruit depending on which sources are sought. Both Apollon [Müller, Dor. ii. 2. § 13.] and Lychnus [Spanheim, ad Callim. p. 644.] are cited as being sons of the union of Athena and Hephaestos. I find that the idea of Apollon, Lord of the Arts, being the son of the theoi of craftsmanship to be an inspiring and illuminating twist in their collective mythologies.

Even with her yearly Athenian marriage to Hephaestos and a proliferation of sons, Athena still remains virgin. She is a virgin in the oldest sense of the word: ever a maiden beholden to no man. It was this virginity that allowed Athena to exist in realms outside of those typically open to Greek women. Now that we live in a society where women and men are recognized as equals it is time to restore Athena's roles beyond that of the eternally chaste daughter.

Sources Cited:

Theoi Project: Athena
Theoi Project: Hephaestos
Burkert, Walter: Greek Religion.
Gimbutas, Marija: The Language of the Goddess.
Kerenyi, Karl: Athene: Virgin and Mother in Greek Religion.
Parker, Robert: Polytheism and Society at Athens.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Ever-Near Goddess

Walter F. Otto in his oft-quoted work The Homeric Gods calls Athena "the ever-near" goddess:
Only the 'bright-eyed intelligence' capable of discerning the decisive element at every juncture and of supplying the most effective instrumentality is an adequate characterization of her ideal . Consummation, the immediate present, action here and now - that is Athena. She is spirited immediacy, redeeming spiritual presence, swift action. She is the 'ever-near'.
Athena stands behind Her favorite heroes and invisibly whispers advice, reason, and wisdom. Although it is a modern epithet it is a telling one. Athena is often overlooked by those who seek Her because She is already so ingrained in our lives.

I read a plea on a board tonight from a woman who offers Athena prayers, incense, and olive oil, but is left cold in her quest to find Athena. Athena is a remarkable theoi. She is found in every rational action, every skillful movement, every whisper of wisdom in our minds. She is the soft voice just behind you urging you to speak out, to learn, to try again.

Yes, there are times, rare and unbidden, where She reveals Herself to us in an omen, a shiver, a gleam of silver light. She may come to us in dreams, dazzling in Her finely woven raiment and polished bronze armor. We may hear Her clear strong voice, or be blessed with an inward vision of Her unspeakably marvelous eyes. But this is not how She usually comes.

Athena feels like the solemn peace of the gray fog of morning spreading its dew on all living things. She sounds like the perfect bon-mot falling from your mouth. She is the right book that you just happen to read at the perfect time. She is the meditative state that accompanies the creation of any art. It is good to seek Athena, but it is better to know that She is already with you. She is truly the ever near goddess.

Brilliant Theoi Picspam

Really, this is bloody brilliant as far as picspam goes. A woman over at LiveJournal "casts" the theoi according to popular stars of the day. I don't agree with everyone. Paltrow as Athena rings false to me, but I'm hard pressed to choose an actress that could do Her justice. I love Hugh Laurie as Hephaestus and Sean Bean as Zeus. Her choice for Dionysus is all wrong. Oh, just go look! What do you think? Who would play your Gods in your very own Homeric movie?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Physical Fitness

As much as it pains my considerable vanity to admit it, I am overweight. Not "oh, golly, I sure could stand to lost ten pounds" overweight, either. No, I'm a good 50 lbs more than the healthy weight for my frame. And I hate it. I hate that I can't do a pull-up and that I get winded walking uphill. I hate the way my clothes hang on me -- they really don't "hang" at all anymore -- and the way I look in photographs.

In classical Greece a high premium was placed on physical fitness. This didn't mean starving oneself to achieve the rail-thin body type women in today's society are expected to maintain. It meant that men and women were expected to be strong, healthy, physically fit individuals. Men attended the gymnasia where they were put through rigorous training to keep them fit. They had to remain fit well into what we would consider older age in order to properly defend their city-state.

In Sparta men and women were taught to wrestle from a young age. For all that the film 300 got wrong about Spartan culture, the spirit of how they portrayed youth was fairly accurate. Greeks fought in the Pankration style, which is remarkably similar to our modern Mixed Martial Arts fighting. Imagine for a moment a society in which citizens are encouraged to actively participate in philosophy, local government, and the UFC. The Greeks, very simply, were badasses.

All of this makes my own weakness and general poor health seem more than laziness. I feel like I'm failing at my religious obligations. So I'm doing something about it. I've started weightlifting according to the StrongLifts 5x5 program, which uses barbell training and lots of squats. Tomorrow will be my third day on the program, or one week. I'm already feeling stronger in my core, and more than a little sore in my thighs (the squats are working!). I am not modifying my diet except to add more protein after workouts. I'm hoping to build muscle and strength and to burn body fat more effectively. In my experience cardio training just doesn't work as well as weight training for overall physical fitness. I'll be recording my fitness milestones in this blog. StrongLifts 5x5 promises to get me to a place where I'll be able to bench my ideal body weight (130lbs) and deadlift 1.5 x my ideal body weight (about 200 lbs). Right now those numbers seem impossibly high, but the program is designed to add weight in five pound increments each workout in order to train your muscles to lift heavier weight.

I'm a little concerned about becoming a gym rat, one of those people who talks all the time about how much they can bench, how much time they spent at the gym, or what they weigh. I can't stand those types of people, and I promise that my blog will not become a place for that kind of self-involved rhetoric. Also, I don't judge anyone who doesn't choose to exercise. How could I? I've been a lazy lump for years, and I'm only changing my lifestyle now because I'm sick of myself. I read recently about how no one ever makes a conscious change in their life until they are "at a 10". You can be fed up for years at a 9.5 and still not be ready to change. Then one day you wake up and with a sense of peace and grace and you are ready to change. You are at a 10. My "10" moment came when I went to put on my favorite butch hipster shirt -- an awesome vintage fitted western button-down piece that my dad gave me -- and found that it was too tight to squeeze my pudgy belly into. The beautiful mother-of-pearl buttons gaped open around my distended middle.

I'll never be a Pankration fighter. I'll never be a Spartan warrior, and I'll never look like Gorgo from 300 unless I starve myself. But I can be better. I can be stronger. I can be healthier. I can change for myself and for my Gods.


The poets call me the gray-eyed Goddess.
Sliver as the glint from a spear point.
Wild with battle fury.
But my sight is sharper than a weapon.

The scholars claim I came from a storm.
Mosture laden.
Eerie dark grey-green as the most dangerous clouds.
Bright as Zeus's lightning.
But my wisdom is more penetrating than rain.

The priests say I stare like an owl.
Glassy blue pupils with no whites.
Able to see even in the faintest light.
But my eyes are older than the darkness.

Turn not away from my gaze, mortal.
I see all.
Rather, look me in the eyes and know the mystery.
Drink of my ancient pools of wisdom.
Know you the color of my eyes.

Written for Noumenia, Mounukhion 1.

Glaukopis is the epithet of Athena that I usually honor in my everyday worship. It has many translations: silver, blue-green, and gray-eyed, shining, flashing, and glinting-eyed, and, the oldest, and one of particular relevance to my own practice: owl-eyed. I have come to think of these many translations not just as an accident of an evolving language, but as a kind of mystery. Athena's eyes cannot be described completely by any one of the translations above, but encompasses all of them. I feel greatly honored to have 'seen' the color of Athena's eyes, although I will never be able to find the right words to explain them. This little hymn is my feeble attempt.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ta Dio

I hear the sound of your voice
like pan-pipes laughing in my mind.
The maenad in me awakens.
I am drawn into your song.
Spinning spindle
her dance weaving
the song of the seasons.
Hair unbound.
Girdle unbound.
Spirit unbound.
A bacchante in ecstasy.

Io euoi!
Io Zagreus!

I clumsily attempt to seduce the God,
drunk on his vintage,
unaware that he has been pursuing me all along.
I run down the hillside,
seeking the solace of the forest.

Io euoi!
Io Bromios!

In desparate passion I tear into flesh.
Blood in my mouth,
a life pressed like grapes bursting.
Limbs tangled into vines,
Tasting your sweet goat song,
Singing your raucous lament.

Io euoi!
Io Sabazos!

Tasting you.
Drinking you.
Lord of my Salvation.

Written for the Greater Dionysia 2010.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Release the Snark!

I'm being snarky on the interwebs. I'm sure you'll want to go take a look. My colleague Nehmet came up with a delightful idea for a "Stuff Pagan Culture Likes" blog inspired by the hilarious original, Stuff White People Like. I had so many ideas for derision, um, discussion that she made me a writer. So, go on! What are you waiting for?

Greater Dionysia

We are well into the City, or Greater, Dionysia festival, Elephbolion 10 -17. It is an annual festival celebrating the coming of spring and honoring the God Dionysus.

Like most Greek festivals the City Dionysia began with a pompe, a kind of parade. The pompe featured a large phallus and the carrying of wine mixed with water. The pompe ended at the theater. Bulls were sacrificed at the theater, and a city wide feast of the meat was held. After the feast a second less formal parade through the street took place, the komos, which resembled a drunken revelry more than a stately pompe.

The following day a goat was sacrificed at the theater and a series of tragic plays were performed as a competition. It is thought that the word "tragedy" comes from the Greek for "goat song".

Wikipedia states:
Dionysus was often seen as the god of everything uncivilized, of the innate wildness of humanity that the Athenians had tried to control. The Dionysia was probably a time to let out their inhibitions through highly emotional tragedies or irreverent comedies. During the pompe there was also an element of role-reversal - lower-class citizens could mock and jeer the upper classes, or women could insult their male relatives...

The plays themselves could highlight ideas that would not normally be spoken or shared in everyday life. Aeschylus' The Persians, for example, while patriotic to Athens, showed sympathy towards the Persians, which may have been politically unwise under normal circumstances. The parodies of Aristophanes mocked the politicians and other celebrities of Athens, even going so far as producing his anti-war play Lysistrata at the height of the Peloponnesian War. The circumstances of the Dionysia allowed him to get away with criticisms he would not normally be allowed to voice.
In tribute to Dionysus, here is a photo of myself, wine-soaked and vine-crowned, at a Dionysian festival last year. I'm so pleased that the Greater Dionysia is upon us. Spring is here in full force, and camping festival season is coming quickly. I've put my maenad crown aside for the winter, and am looking forward to donning it again soon!