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.

1 comment:

  1. As Joseph Campbell has pointed out to us we have the same mythic stories told to us over and over again in new, or old, mythic clothing. :)

    Happy Holidays!