AMAZONS at the Moonspeaker
'But know this, I have never betrayed my women, women who loved me the world around. I am not a "scab" who crosses over to the enemy; I never endorsed matricide. I never preferred men to women; I have never abandoned you.'
- from 'The Grandmother of Time' by Z. Budapest
DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF ATHENA
Athena the Eye Goddess
Few concepts of the Goddess have become as enmeshed in contradiction and superstition as the ancient Eye Goddess. In the Neolithic, her wide, staring eyes were everywhere, sometimes carved with spiral patterns modern cartoonists use as visual shorthand for the powers of the hypnotist. Sometimes only her eyes appear, carved all over great stones as at the New Grange Tumulus in England, or one eye serving as the Sun or Moon in the sky. Like the Sun, her eyes were both friendly and threatening, able to warm or scorch. In fact, the words Sul, Sol, and Solis mean both 'Sun' and 'eye.' This fascination with eyes reflects the human habit of watching mainly the eyes and mouth to determine expression and guide communication. Novice artists often render faces out of proportion by drawing precisely what they see: a face dominated by the eyes and mouth.
So it is no coincidence that one of the Eye Goddess' later incarnations, Medusa, has wide, bulging eyes and a large mouth. As guardian of women's mysteries, particularly those involving sex and menstruation, not many other images could say 'keep out, go away' more effectively or universally. A long, direct, unblinking gaze is still seen almost universally as an aggressive, threatening, gesture. The tamed Athena worshipped by Athens who was originally Medusa herself has her eyes continuously described by writers. They are piercing, keen, flashing, stony, blue like the sky, grey-green, or green-yellow. Storytellers could claim Medusa was some mortal woman whose murder Athena arranged, but they couldn't avoid referring to her as 'the Goddess with the petrifying gaze,' a gaze that only seemed to affect men. Athena was the original Persephone, the Sun Goddess who Shines for All, whose name means simultaneously Destroyer of All. The dragon has been defined as a 'monster with the evil eye' and the word itself is derived from an Indo-European root meaning 'to see.'
The Eye Goddess always has penetrating, wise eyes. There was no evading or fooling her, yet she was predominantly protective and kindly, her warm bright gaze causing the plants to grow, or her cooler gaze guiding people home in the evening. By the time of the ancient Greeks, she had been transmuted into a frightening being whose gaze was always deadly. They could never completely separate this darker aspect from Athena, who always wore a gorgoneum on her aegis, or on her shield. Between the discomfort Greeks felt about women in general, let alone their sexuality and their penetrating eyes, eye amulets began to be called evil eye amulets. They were no longer worn to keep the gentle gaze of the Goddess nearby at all times or to demonstrate proper respect for her, but to fend off the presumed evil of a woman's glance, especially a post-menopausal woman. The Greek version of the evil eye amulet was a small disk marked with Medusa's image, and new rules officially relegated most women to virtual imprisonment in their own homes. The reality was that mainly aristocratic women were so imprisoned, others having to work outside the home because they could afford neither slaves nor servants. In Anatolia and the Middle East this was further expressed in the new rules declaring a woman must always cast her gaze on the ground, or cover her eyes with a veil.
Turkey's famous blue evil eye amulets are still produced mainly around Smyrna, founded by Libyan Amazons, many of whom worshipped Athena. The amulets typically consist of a circle or oval, with two more circles, one blue and one white, set into its centre. Sometimes the amulets consisted of a blue hand with an eye set in the centre, which seems more like a demonstration of the eye's ability to see through any covering that can be cast over it. Other amulets were blue horseshoes marked with eyes instead of nails, with an eye or a bunch of grapes hung from the arch. The symbolism has been curiously reversed here as well. The horseshoe and its omega shape originally symbolized female genitals, which has evocative implications for what the things hung from it actually refer to. Finally, today a still current Eastern folktale claims that should a man look at a woman's genitals, he will be struck blind. This seems to be a garbled or inverted memory of a holy sight indeed, the eye-like appearance of the cervix at the end of the vagina, the gateway between the womb and the outerworld. Within the womb we are blind to the outside world, once born we are often able to see.
Goddess of the Sun
The Greeks never called Athena a Sun Goddess outright, in fact they stubbornly maintained Apollo was the Sun deity, even when this had foolish results. Titling him 'Phoebas,' a feminine monicker, for example. There is plenty of evidence showing Athena was the original solar deity, however. The frequently appearing gorgon-head Sun comes to mind first, but there are several specific features that can be examined. As explained by Patricia Monaghan they are: possession of a sacred mirror and glowing necklace, the invention of weaving, association with a dance of power, and having a companion Goddess who is a smith and/or shaman. Athena does indeed have a sacred mirror, although in Greek myth it has become a shield. Her glowing necklace has become the snaky aegis... the snake is often associated with the Sun's rays and reputed to shine like the Sun. Even the Greeks maintained that Athena invented weaving and was the very spirit of the craft. The famous Pyrrhic dance, centrepiece of the Athenian Panathenaea was performed in her honour.
Snakes are interwoven with a great deal of provocative symbolism, some of it already examined in the previous chapter. Their coiling bodies suggested the spiral, itself used to represent the Sun and the eyes of the Goddess. The coiled snake also suggests the coiled thread Athena used while weaving, and the ball of thread Ariadne used to guide souls in the labyrinth, a literal thread, or the umbilical cord. Athena is related to Ariadne by being a psychopompe, a role already mentioned in the main section in speaking of a small statue of Athena found in an Attic tomb with snakes for arms.
Sun Goddesses were frequently psychopompes, and the labyrinth was itself connected to the Sun. It's entrance was carefully faced East to catch the first sunlight of the day. Patricia Monaghan's research has shown that the labyrinth accurately charts the Sun's path in the sky in the far North. It also marks the counter clockwise apparent orbit of the Moon as it waxes, followed by it's clockwise apparent path as it wanes. Travelling the labyrinth made rebirth possible, whether it be by the Goddess leading the dead from its centre beneath the ground, or the priestess Ariadne guiding initiates through it for a spiritual rebirth. Winding up the thread originally recreated the globe of the Sun, rebirthing the Sun Goddess herself. The ubiquitous pools near labyrinths or Kretan Goddess temples were probably meant to act as mirrors. The Sun's reflection was used for divination, rather than the endless circling of the fish... ancient peoples were well aware that staring or looking directly at the Sun was dangerous to the eyes.
All of Athena's temples and any sacrifices had to include fire in some way, be it the eternal flame tended only by old women, burning incense, or burning the sacrifice itself. Women regularly used lenses to start altar fires, as they did their fires at home, and still had this duty in the days of the Roman Empire. The burning lenses were also used to cauterize wounds, and so they were also sacred to Athena as Goddess of healing. The hot springs Athena heated as she travelled in the underworld at night in her solar boat were also dedicated to her healing aspect. This was done most famously at the Celto-Romanic shrine of Minerva Sulis, Minerva being the Roman Goddess Athena ultimately absorbed.
The Sun Goddess was protected, encouraged to stay during the winter, and encouraged to remain benign in summer in many ways. Spirals invoking her and mirroring her beauty were carved and embroidered everywhere, the still pools and bronze mirrors did so literally. Some version of Cat's Cradle may have been played by Greek children to hold the Sun in the sky, or perhaps provide a new set of reins for her chariot, in case the originals broke or became tangled. Dancing moonwise during the day was strictly prohibited for fear of weakening the Sun. To insure Athena reappeared in the morning, her priestesses performed a variety of mysterious nightly rituals.
Bronze mirrors were sacred to Athena from an early date, as they were to many Sun Goddesses, from Ma'at to Amaterasu. The cave of Aralokhori South of Knossos on Krete was one of Athena's sanctuaries as well as a bronzesmith's shop... which points back to the question of where the expected shaman Goddess companion is.
There is such a Goddess in Greek myth, named Baubo (an Egyptian term for female genitals) or Iambe, who brings Demeter out of her misery and allows Persephone to return from the underworld by dancing lasciviously, crowning the striptease with the exposure of her genitals. 'Persephone' can be translated 'destroyer of all' or 'she who shines for all' and is one of Athena's alternate names. The labrys is an abstracted rendition of the female labia. Cowries and triangles were both sacred because they resembled a woman's genitals and were symbols of Athena. Both her rival Poseidon and the enemy of her Amazons Belleropheron were sent running in terror by the sight of a line of women marching on them with genitals ritually exposed. Today the genitals of an adult woman are still considered powerful literally and symbolically. Apparently the rebirth of the Sun Goddess was considered a difficult and dangerous time, demanding the most powerful magical measures to assist.
None of this is to suggest worshippers of Demeter and Persephone considered the latter identical to Athena, or even that one is somehow derived from the other. Rather, elements of their worship were probably similar, and the confusion over Baubo's name is in fact an accidental preservation of the name of Athena's companion Goddess of smithing and shamanism, Iambe.
The Spinning and Weaving Athena
When spiderwebs unite, they can halt a lion.
- Ethiopian proverb
Sun Goddesses have almost always been spinners and weavers, and Athena is no exception. She was considered the inventor of both crafts, and all the plants and tools associated with them were sacred to her. These included the blue flowered flax plant and the mortar and pestle used to ready the flax for spinning. Sometimes the mortar became an impromptu boat the Goddess used to row herself across the Underworld sea. Amber became sacred to Athena for its colour and because it was often carved into spindle whorls which her ever practical worshippers used for jewelry when they weren't full of thread. The Greek word synophaeno 'weaving together' referred particularly to the spider.
Sheep were sacred to Athena because they provided fibre for spinning, and males were sacrificed to Athena the Fate Weaver. Today Friday is still a special day to the Spinning Goddess in rural Europe. On that day no turning, twisting, or spinning work may be done out of respect to her.
After marrying, young Athenian women cut their hair and wound it around spindle whorls for dedication to Athena. Marriage was considered a sort of coming of age, and it was likely at the first time a young woman menstruated that Amazons performed the same ritual. Today Anatolian women still don't cut their hair until they marry. Anatolian weaving and dyeing traditions also reflect the practices of Athena's weavers: patterns, which plants gave which dyes, and how to dye various fibres has been passed from mother to daughter for centuries. Some dyeing and weaving techniques have been taken over by men, but only after the demand for certain types of cloth and rugs increased the prestige of the practitioners.
Decorations were applied to everything for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Their symbols gave protection or blessings, and the added tensile strength made clothing and rugs more durable. Women were always spinning or weaving in ancient times, as nomadic women still do all over Asia. In fact the terms spinster 'a woman who spins' and webster 'a woman who weaves' in English reflect just how everpresent these tasks were. Every piece of cloth came from their hands, and yet another suggested cause of the Trojan war is a Greek desire to enslave the city's weavers. The bobbing spindle whorls and the tedium of the job helped induce prophetic trances, and in ancient Greece sphondulomantis 'prophesying from the spindle' was still known, and suggests yet another reason the christian church became incensed if women called upon Athena while spinning. The Heliades and their ever falling amber tears are actually their spindle whorls, forever moving as they wove the clouds.
The Heliades are another link between Athena and Hera. They tended Hera's sacred apple trees in the Far West where the Sun set. In other cultures, the Sun itself was an apple. The Balts in particular spoke of their beloved Sun Goddess Saule, who slept in an apple tree at the end of the world in a beautiful garden each night. This also explains why 'Apollo' has been translated 'destroyer' or 'apple keeper.'
The majority of words in the Greek language concerning spinning or weaving are not Indo-European in origin, and so must have been culled from the languages of conquered peoples just as the vocabulary of the stone workers was. The word 'histos' is particularly interesting. In ancient Greek, it meant anything set upright, such as a vertical loom, or the beam of the vertical loom, which holds the warp. 'Histion' may mean a web, cloth, or sheet. The story of Philomena shows that picture stories were regularly woven into cloth, and likely these were the first external devices that helped storytellers keep track of their tales. It also suggests that the general consensus that stories were only recorded by methods other than memorization before the advent of writing is false.
After Athena absorbed the Egyptian Goddess Neith, it was often said that she wove the world, but it may be that she actually spun it on her distaff, along with human consciousness. Taboos against dancing widdershins during the day were meant to avoid spoiling her spinning. If a moment is spent imagining what a tangle inverting the spin of a distaff would cause, the impetus behind the rule can be seen in practical and metaphorical terms. By preventing the fouling of the Athena's spinning, people were doing no less than preventing the spread of chaos.
GODDESSES AND PRIESTESSES ASSOCIATED WITH ATHENA
This Canaanite Goddess' name means 'to answer' and may be related to the Akkadian word ettu meaning 'active will.' She was a major deity all over the western parts of the Near East, including Egypt where she was later considered to be the same Goddess as Libyan Neith. Titles for her include Belet'net 'virgin Anath,' Nethebely 'the destroyer,' and Yebemet-limm 'widow of the nation(?).' Her worship extended from the 2nd millenium BCE deep into the Hellenistic Age, when it began to be forced underground. Like the original Athena, she ruled battle, the hunt, and the passage of souls from one world to the next. She was also a Death Goddess who wore the goatskin aegis or at least, the Egyptians attributed Neith's aegis to her. This sacred garment has been described as a cloak, apron, breastplate, or shield. In Anath's case, it shifted in function as religious ceremony changed. Originally it was probably a garment worn by each Libyan woman when she came of age, made of cloth and marked with snakes and Moon symbols, or made of many braids of string. Later it was remade, parts of its feminine symbolism removed and turned into a garment worn during animal sacrifices. Then it was decorated with severed penises, representing both types of death men experience, loss of erection and the ending of their lives.
As Anath's image was melded into that of the Minoan Bird Goddess, the penises became snakes again, and the aegis a cloak. The result helped to effectively concealed Athena's ancient Libyan origins while unwittingly reintroducing some of the older symbols. The sacred rite in which Anath's consort, represented by the last of the grain harvest, died during the ritual of the last sheaf's reaping and division into food and seed was cut out altogether. Such drastic action was required to further match her to Libyan Athena, who consorted with no man unless she wished to conceive a child by other than parthenogenetic means. Conversely, Anath was never associated with giving birth unless she had taken an animal form.
Anath was a famous warrior and powerful protector, a sort of 'ultimate woman' in a way somewhat analogous to Athena's early Greek role. She was worshipped by many Israelites, who considered their god her consort, and was frequently mentioned in Ugaritic texts. The Phoenicians also adored her, naming settlements for her. One of them was called Panorma by the Greeks, connecting her to their 'universal mountain mother' Gaea or Rhea.
Arachne doesn't really fit in this category, since she was never a separate Goddess, although her story mirrors Myrmex's in Greek mythology. She represents the confusion experienced by Greek invaders when they found depictions of Athena with her totem bug, the spider. Arachne is actually her title as Spinner of the Thread of Life, and Weaver of Fate. In this aspect Athena was worshipped from Thebes to Lydia and Phrygia. Curiously, Arachne also appears to be an older name for the Swan Goddess Leda.
Priestesses of this aspect of Athena were probably called by this name as well. Expert weavers, they gave oracles and wove the images from their religion and culture into great cloth wall hangings. These picture stories were often misunderstood, and tended to portray the new patriarchal deities as the priestesses saw them, which was in a negative light, considering their experiences and the later descriptions of Arachne's tapestry. The invaders responded by shredding them, a fate similar to that suffered by a vast corpus of Goddess oriented literature and art, exemplified by the fragmentary works of Sappho, cut up to wrap mummies in Egypt.
'Dawn Goddess' for whom Attica was named. Part of a pre-Hellenic trinity with Kranae 'rocky' and Kranaechme 'rocky point,' she was among the original divinities of the region. Various sacred rocks, cliffs, and summits may derive from sites of their worship. Sadly, little detail remains of them, beyond the similarity between Atthis and Eos 'dawn,' and how her sisters may have been Cybele-like in character.
Agraulos 'rustic one' mother of :
Herse 'dew' sometimes also called a daughter of Selene
Pandrosos 'she who is completely covered in dew'
Pre-Hellenic Triple Goddess of the dew, which determines the size and quality of the fruit in the olive crop, long a staple of the region of Attica. Besides their concern with agriculture, the Augralids represented the organization of their society by matrilineal clans. Like Athena and many other Goddesses connected to the Earth, the snake was one of their totems. Pandrosos was the first to spin, while Herse was concerned mainly with the olive tree, and Agraulos and Aglauros protected mortals. A clear night lit by a Full Moon often heralded a good 'dewfall,' so the olive tree and these Goddesses were also associated with the Moon.
They were never entirely excised from Athens. The old temple on the Acropolis was dedicated to Pandrosos, and was always considered more sacred than Athena's. The city's sacred olive tree grew in it, and the tree was cared for by the women of the Hersephoria. The entire Acropolis was originally theirs, with statues of the three sisters in the main temple. Herse and Pandrosos' were removed, although Aglauros' was maintained and renamed. Eventually the statue was replaced, presumably after its final removal would no longer outrage the general populace.
Eventually the Augralids were reduced to the status of mortal women, daughters of the serpent-man Kekrops. Pausanius spoke of how Kekrops only became king of Athens by marrying a 'daughter' of his predecessor, a strong hint that the queen determined who would be king. The garbled tale of Erichthonius suggests a test that potential high priestesses of Athena may have had to take. In the myth, Athena gave an order which required ignoring the cries of a probably hungry, soiled, or lonely child. Whoever had the courage and compassion to ignore the order and care for the child would be suited for the position. In an attempted reconciliation between the followers of the old and new Goddesses, Agraulos was credited with passing the test... and it was insisted that she was a mere mortal.
Festivals and customs from the worship of the Augralids continued long past Classical times, until quashed by christianity. During Arrephoria for example, the transfer of unopened packages in and out of the temple of Athena, or the Hersephoria 'dew gathering' participated in exclusively by girls. Before going into battle, Athenian soldiers dedicated themselves to Agraulos, insuring that they had her protection and that she would grant them rebirth. Each sacred procession included three priestesses, two to scatter dew, and one with a branch tied to her elbow, perhaps on the same principle as carrying the caduceus.
Considerably more than a night bogey, this Serpent Goddess is closely related to Athena through Medusa and the Gorgons. Snake bodied but having a woman's head, she was demonized because she represented the Dark Mother who receives her children after death. Lamia was a prophetic Goddess, and one of her priestesses was known as the Libyan Sibyl. Long after she had become the stuff of nightmares in Greece, a tribe in Latium claimed her as their divine ancestor. Rites similar to those in Eleusis were celebrated in her honour.
The image of the snake with a female head bears similarity to the feathered serpent of the Central American cultures that symbolized the power of the divine. It could be a form of the divinity as lightning or as the Earth dwelling snake. While most feathered serpents of Central America have been identified with gods, the presence of a Goddess cannot be ruled out.
The people named for this Goddess come down to the present as anything but Goddess worshippers. The Myrmidons, exemplified by the strangely ambivalent Achilles, appear in the most detail in the story of the fall of Troy. They were the defenders of patriarchy, and helped destroy the city. The first Myrmidons were quite different, considering themselves the descendants of their Ant Goddess. As their homeland of Pthiotis was overrun by Greeks who briskly demoted Myrmex to mortal status and replaced her with their desexed, whitened version of Athena, they must have wondered what would become of their people.
Ants were considered wise beyond human reckoning for the same reasons snakes were: they lived in continuous contact with Mother Earth's wiseblood. Myrmex could fly, as ants were known to sometimes do. She was also an inventor who created the plough and the saw for her people. Like her totem insects, Myrmex was industrious and honest. The Greeks liked to claim that Athena fell in love with her for these qualities, then spurned her over a disagreement about the invention of the plough.
Akusaa - the westerner
Ament - the hidden one; the westerner
Anatha - Queen of Heaven
Åpt-Uet - opener of the way, firstborn
Mehurt/Mehetweret - cow of heaven; flowing water
Mut-Neter - Mother Goddess
Neith - self-made
Nebet-Pet - lady of heaven
Net-Mehit - great lady
Rat - the Sun
Tayet - shroud
Wenet - the one
Like the Goddess Mene (Menos), Neith is so ancient that her history begins before the Egyptian Dynastic period, perhaps before Egypt itself. Budge traced her to Libya, and she remained associated with the West, the West bank of the Nile where all deities once lived, and the land of the dead. She was considerably more than the Goddess of war. Neith was synonymous with the primeval waters and was the First being, Creator and Sustainer of all other life, embodying the power that held communities together. Since no other being was older than her, her own birth was unrevealed and unknowable. So fundamental was Neith that her name is difficult for scholars to translate today, fixed as they are on single meanings and unable to accept easily that her name is in fact a complex metaphor for all sorts of beginnings. A few of those many meanings and metaphors are: She Who Is, Self-Made, Primeval Water, the Weaver. The Egyptian verb for to knit or weave may be linguistically related to neith: netet. She was also called Net(er), Nut 'sky' who birthed the Sun each day, or Nekhbet 'she of Nekheb' a major city of southern Egypt. Later the Greeks would mistake this alternate name for a separate Goddess, whom they would refer to as Nephthys.
At root, Neith is a true psychopompe figure. First she invented birth, the guiding of life into existence. Then she invented mummification and its attendant rituals to guide the dead into the underworld. Her unguents preserved and restored the dead; she wove their bandages and shrouds. Archaeological evidence for the earliest deliberate mummification is of women in Archaic Egypt, and Neith likely had a crone aspect represented by her vulture totem. Later the hieroglyphic symbol for grandmother was a vulture holding royal symbols. Egyptians and Greeks alike believed there were only female vultures, and they could cure disease and bring luck because they ate the dead to take them to heaven without becoming ill from eating rotten flesh. Yet Neith's earliest symbol is two corssed arrows over an animal skin, possibly reflecting the skills of early warrior priestesses.
By Early Dynastic times members of the royal families were using 'neith' as part of their own names to a significant degree. In time this connection would be expressed through Neith's frequent wearing of the red crown (deshret) of Lower Egypt and of both the red and white (hedjet) crowns of the unified country. The common word for Goddess was Netert (plural Neterit or Neterut). Neith's principle city in Upper Egypt was Seni, called Latopolis by the Greeks, where she was portrayed as a woman with a green lioness head and titled 'Mother of Mothers and Father of Fathers.' But her most ancient sanctuary was in Lower Egypt at Saïs (Sa¨t), home of a famed healing sanctuary and medical school, for Neith was Goddess of healing long before Isis. The Egyptian pantheon most are familiar with is in fact the 'Heliopolitan pantheon' an alien group of deities that new priests attempted to impose on Saïs. This never took well, even after they made Neith the head of the Heliopolitan pantheon there. Saïs was also the founding city of the Feast of Lamps, the great annual festival in honour of Neith. Houses were decorated with lamps and torches fueled with a mixture of oil and salt, and tapers were sometimes arranged indoors. All of these lights were kept burning until morning.
As time went on, Neith became increasingly complex, dispensing wisdom, health, and useful inventions. The snake became one of her familiars, as evidenced by a tiny bronze figure of her kept in the Canadian Museum of Civilization which has the unmistakable body of a snake rearing up beside her, although its head has been broken off. The unification of Egypt began to cause other changes. Even as Neith was identified with every other powerful Goddess among the local deities of the freshly unified provinces, and matrilineal descent was considered important enough for memorial cults to be established and maintained for centuries, the status of living women was declining. Non-royal women were only referred to in relation to males in their families, and tombs of royal women were far fewer than those of the men. Neith's original priestesshood was suppressed and driven out, perhaps leading to the reappearance of the Goddess as a Muse at Delphi.
Nevertheless, even after the much sharper drop in women's and Goddess' statuses after the introduction of Hellenistic rule, Neith remained so important that numerous Egyptians and Greeks wrote of her. Most famous and frequently repeated is the verse recorded by Plutarch and quoted at the beginning of the section on 'Athena': "I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the ending, all that is, all that was, all that will be, and no man has put asunder the veil that covers me." The composer of the book of Revelation found this verse so striking he repeated at least parts of the first two lines twice.
The origins of 'Great Maiden' or 'Great Vulva' are a source of considerable confusion. On one hand, she has been called a deity of invading Greek tribes, who found Athena already firmly entrenched on the peninsula. On the other, like Athena she has been traced to Libya. Her descendants, the tribe of war priestesses called Pallantids were perennial enemies of Athens. Given this, it is most likely that Pallas is indeed from Libya originally, and came with Athena to the Greek mainland, carried by wandering Amazons. Later Hellenic tribes removed her when they remade Athens.
Yet Pallas reappears repeatedly, from the word 'palace' to the Pallatine Hill. The Arkadian city of Pallanteum was dedicated to her. The Romans celebrated a feast in her honour each April 21 called the Parilia 'Shepherd's Day' when people leapt through local fires of straw, laurel, and olive branches and the main ritual fire was also sprinkled with blood and ashes from the day's sacrifices. Also considered a shepherd and guardian deity of cattle, the ass was her main totem animal. Like the ass god Set of Egypt, she may have represented the barrenness of the desert, which can be produced or aggravated by overgrazing and drought. Companion and lover of Athena, as intimate as the desert is to the Sun, they fought side by side like their Amazon tribes, the Gorgons and the Pallantids.
Part of the reason Hestia is such a shadowy deity is due to her origins, which were not as an independent Goddess, but as a repository for qualities Hellenic Athena had been stripped of. Athena was the embodiment of family bonds in pre-Hellenic times, symbolized by the hearth. These hearths were Hestia's earliest altars, and may have been as inviolable as the official altars in places like the anteroom of Delphi were. In fact, the Homeric concept of 'xenia,' the correct treatment of a guest may be related to this former inviolability of each woman's home. The hearth continued to be maintained by the women of the household, and each woman who left her mother's house to set up her own brought embers from her mother's fire. Later Greek colonies would follow a similar practice, carrying coals from their mother cities. The ritual was immeasurably old, and may reflect the challenges of lighting fires in certain conditions as well as the need to treat fire with respect. Today there are many 'eternal' flames maintained in honour of events people wish to remember.
However, this matrilineal tradition ran counter to the patriarchal mores of Athens, so her title as Hearth Goddess 'Hestia' was taken away and remade into a separate being, an older 'sister' of Zeus. It is for this reason that Hestia had no human form, and never lived on Mount Olympus. If the cause of her lack of human form is her age, it begs the question how there can be images of the Great Goddess later called Cybele, Rhea, and so on, from the Paleolithic age, together with aniconic images.
Each of Athena's cities had a Prytaneum, a communal hearth that was kept burning at all times. One of its descendants graces the grounds in front of the Canadian Parliament buildings in Ottawa, decorated with the arms of each province and territory, along with that of Canada itself. In ancient times, the sigil of each clan was probably used to decorate the Prytaneum in the same way. Further proof of Hestia's origins lie in the time of year she protected, which was roughly December-January. Athena also protected this time, and the inviolability of her sanctuaries was shared by those of Hestia. Early altars were modelled on the hearth at the centre of each house, consisting of a cauldron set over a fire. The cauldron is a common attribute of the Crone Goddess, and reappears among many deities related to Athena. And finally, like Athena, Hestia was a snaky Goddess, worshipped mainly by women.
Vesta 'Shining One' and the Vestal Virgins
Aeterna - eternal
Amata - beloved
Ara - altar
Fornax - oven
Pales - maiden, shepherd
Prisca - ancient
Sacra - holy one
Tutela - protector
Latin Vesta is at once very similar to and very different from Hestia. Like Hestia she was the deity of the hearth, family harmony, and the strength that held society together. She was ever-present as the hearth, or as any round table used to serve food, which were formerly called Hestias or Vestas. Unlike Hestia, Vesta was worshipped as the giver of fertility and the maker and keeper of the calendar. Her round calendar table was called Mensa 'Moon' or 'Measurer.' However, she does not seem to be the original Goddess of the Latin eternal flame.
That Goddess seems to be the mysterious Caca whose name unfortunately means 'bad' in Latin but may have meant 'fire' in an unrelated language. That unrelated language may even have been Etruscan, since the Romans themselves recorded that they learned many aspects of their religion from the Etruscans. However, the nature of Vesta's temple may partially mitigate this idea. It was highly unusual in that it was not rectangular but round with a domed roof and no angles anywhere, surrounded by a wall, and stood outside of the official first boundary of Rome. Even the altar was round, an almost unheard of innovation in Roman or Hellenistic temples. Furthermore, Vesta's temple was set up on officially unconsecrated ground that the augurs never set foot on. The rectangular temple form was taken up from the Etruscans; on the other hand, the temples of foreign deities were traditionally set up outside of the city. Some belief also persists in a sacred oak grove of Vesta at the foot of the Palatine Hill (apparently cut down as Rome grew), and analysis of what may have been ashes of the Vestal fire include evidence of oak wood.
Several other fairly mysterious Goddesses were absorbed by Vesta besides Caca. There was Amata 'beloved' whose name also became a title for the women who served Vesta, the sister of the Goddess Venetia, ruler of the winds and ocean. Fornax, Goddess of every aspect of making bread became an aspect of Vesta even though her Festival of Ovens (on February 17), the Fornicalia did not seem quite congruent with the usual chaste image of the Hearth Goddess. Last but not least, Vesta absorbed Karmentis, a Goddess of healing, prophecy, and memory of the past. She invented the alphabet, and her daughters Prorsa and Postverta were mainly known as the Karmenti and as members of the prophetic priestesshood of the Karmenae. These mysterious women and Goddesses who included Egeria, Antevorta, Karmentis, Proversa, Tibutus, and Timandra were associated with fountains, springs and groves. They may have been the founding mothers of the Vestal Virgins, because they watched over the springs at Rome's Porta Capena where the Vestals drew water.
The first half of June was taken up with overlapping rites of Juno and Vesta. The Vestalia began on the fifth and finished on the fifteenth officially, with only women being allowed in the temple for the duration. The biggest day for the rest of the population was June ninth, when banquets were set out in front of each house, meals were sent to the Vestals to offer to the Goddess, and both the millstones and the donkeys that turned them were garlanded. The donkeys in particular were lead around the city, probably as charm to bring fertility to each household. On the last day Vesta's temple was vigourously cleaned and swept, with the resulting debris dumped down the Porta Stercoraria nearby.
The Vestal Virgins themselves seem to be hedged around with confusion, mainly because the Romans tried to change the meaning of the word 'virgin' from 'a woman who belongs to herself' to 'a woman who has not had sex with a man.' This change has never been entirely successful, leading to many contradictions in writings about ancient religion. A common etymology given for the word is that it comes from Latin vir 'man,' which makes little sense. It helps to look rather further back to the Sanskrit root vr (ver/vir) which means 'to envelop.' 'Virgin' may originally have meant 'one who is able to envelop' with a related term 'one who can be enveloped,' that is, virtue. Even more likely however, is that it meant 'self-enclosed' as in being independent and able to care for oneself. Virtue could then be a quality of both women and men, but would have referred especially to women due to parthenogenetic phenomena. The similarities between this terminology and those referring to maleness could easily lead to them being confused once differences in pronunciation were forgotten or otherwise lost.
Vestal colleges were established at Rome, Tibur, and Lavinium. The Lavinian college may have been the oldest, as its founder was supposed to be the daughter of Armata, Lavinia, and Lavinia was the legendary founder of the ruling line of Alba Longa. Alba Longa is the Roman mother city in legend, and its sacred fire remained lit until the fourth century BCE. Originally these colleges seem to have little or nothing to do with Vesta at all. The first colleges in Alba Longa were actually priestesshoods of Rhea Silvia and Tarpeia. Eventually the Romans set out a contradictory legend of the founding of their own Vestal college, claiming the second Sabine king of Rome founded it, in the face of the fact that the Vestals originally chose and deposed Latin kings. They were completely independent of men, and their children were born into the religious orders. The status and rights of women became considerably eroded as Rome became more deeply militaristic, and the rules and qualifications of the Vestals had been so interfered with by the time of Augustus that he was forced to go on recruiting drives that were at best marginally successful.
Right into the time of the Roman republic, unlike other women Vestals could manage their own financial affairs, a key symbol of their independence. In some instances they could override the rulings of the city magistrates and could be buried within the city limits. When testifying at trials, their word was so respected they were not required to take an oath. Special front seats were reserved for them at the gladiatorial games. They owned their own horses. The number of Vestal Virgins seems to vary from two to six in this period, and their thirty years of service was divided into three parts. For ten years they learned the various functions and rituals of the college. For ten more years they actually performed those rites and duties. Finally, they spent ten years teaching their skills to new members.
Among the Vestal duties was a task that seems to have been a special one of all daughters in ancient times, maintaining and relighting the fire. If the temple flame went out it was relit using a burning lens or a bronze parabolic reflector. This was the 'root flame' of the city; all other temple fires were lit from it so it could not be relit in any other way. A curious aspect of the centrality of fire here is how almost every author ignores the sexual connotations of the lighting and relighting of the Vestal flame considering Vesta was worshipped as a provider of fertility. Conversely, the fire was considered a means of purification through literal burning or use in sweat baths.
Related to this purification aspect is the preparation of the sacred mola salsa or salted flour. No aspect of the preparation of this substance was carried out by non-Vestals. They processed and ground their own salt. The eldest three Vestals gathered the spelt grain used in the mola between May 7-14 on the odd numbered days, then it was parched and ground in the temple. Ovid said that the mola salsa was originally called Februa, from the Sabine word februo 'I purify or burn' that may also be related to ferveo/ferbeo 'I boil.' This substance was required for sacrifices when it was sprinkled over the head of each animal before it was killed, similar to the Greek practice of sprinkling barley grains. It was also used on June 9, on September 13, and on February 15 during the Lupercalia when the last of the supply was used up. On March 1 the Vestals deliberately doused the eternal flame, cleaned its sconce, then relit it. Five days later they performed the main sacrifice to Vesta.
Throughout the year the Vestals protected Rome's holy relics, mysterious objects only they and certain Roman officials saw. They said public prayers and were entrusted with important legal documents, including wills and treaties. Similar to Greek hetairai, their presence in force was demanded at every important ceremony.
However, numerous limitations and changes came together in imperial times to make the Vestal college exceedingly difficult to maintain. Their financial independence was stripped when the city's high prest was made their legal guardian. Candidates now had to be patricians, have both parents living, been born in Italy, never had a dishonourable occupation, could only be considered for the office between the ages of 6 and 10 years inclusive, and could not have any physical disabilities or 'imperfections.' Once a girl became a Vestal, she ceased to be a member of her family. She could no longer inherit from any member of her birth family. If she fell ill she was forbidden to return home to recover, and instead was carried to a chosen household. The mere accusation of 'looking sexy' could lead to flogging and other punishments. Any offence could be punished with being forced to strip naked and submit to a beating by the fully clothed high priest. For a Vestal, being accused of having sex was a sentence of death by being buried alive. She suffered the same fate if she was raped. Conversely, there seemed to be no penalty for raping a Vestal Virgin, let alone sleeping with one. There was little Vestals could do to avoid drawing attention or to get away quickly if they were attacked. Each Vestal had to wear a long white linen tunic, a 'palla' a short tunic with slit sides that fell to the hips, plus a woolen overrobe with a purple border. The High Vestal was also assigned a special hood fastened at the neck by a brooch.
All of these limitations and changes reflected the fact that the Roman emperors had taken almost personal control of the administration and staffing of the priestesshood. The purpose behind this micromanagement is not entirely clear, although the restrictions and destruction of female agency and independence, important drawing points for new initiates indicates a slow strangulation of the order. Nevertheless, it persisted for over 1 100 years and was disbanded by force in the 300s CE. As their last act, the final priestesses destroyed the sacred holding area of the temple along with its relics to prevent them from being desecrated.
Her name and the net she wore over her hair indicate her Neolithic origins. The net symbolized water and fertility, appropriate since she was after all, a Fertility Goddess. Like Athena, she was a weaver and had a water bird totem, the spotted duck, which is one translation of her name. Others are 'she who has a veiled face' or 'she whose eyes are behind the veil,' so she was also a Goddess of Fate and the Future whose completed weaving meant the death of the person whose life it represented. As weaver of the world, Penelope undid the work she had done during the day each night to preserve it for awhile longer.
Arae - Latin deities of destruction and retribution eventually absorbed by the Eumenides
Dirae - furies; Latin title making them equal to multiplied forms of the Goddess Dira who presided over retribution
Erinyes - strong ones
Maniae - madnesses
Melanaegiae - black shielded ones
Potniae< - queens, revered ones
Praxidikae - keeper of oaths; exacter of justice
Underground Goddesses originally from Sikyon who pushed up the new shoots each spring, rulers of reproduction in general associated with the pomegranate. Their worshippers wore robes the colour of menstrual blood and met over low altars placed deep in caves, lit only by a few torches. They were called upon to bless and protect new families as well as established ones. The best known of their sacred caves is the one on the Athenian Acropolis, which was also called a temple of the fearful Erinyes. This was not confusion or an attempt to flatter the darker Goddesses, but a recognition that just as the Eumenides emanated from Gaea (or Nyx) and were friendly and helpful when the laws of the mothers were respected, they became angry and frightening when those same laws were broken. Although no list of names has been given for the Eumenides, the Erinyes were: Alekto 'the unspeakable' or possibly 'the voiceless one,' Megaera 'anger' or 'vengeance,' and Tisiphone 'avenger of blood.' They carried swords and whips, and Tisiphone in particular wore a long cloak dyed blood red. The Greeks believed that they wept poisonous blood from their eyes and attempted to placate them with offerings of black sheep, honey water, white doves, and narcissus. Three more are sometimes added to their number, Megaira 'she who holds a grudge,' Telphusia 'far reaching storm,' and sometimes Deina, the Goddess of fear. The Romans referred to these powerful Goddesses as Furies who sometimes accompanied Bellona, but named only two, Alekto and Furina 'furious.' The Etruscans had a sacred grove dedicated to the Furies, and a festival in their honour, the Furinalia. Only one of them was usually mentioned by name, Nathum.
Great Goddess of the Medes, titled Aeetias 'the untouchable' by the Romans, she is another embodiment of the Sun and funerary deity that Athena descended from. Like her sister Kirke, she was a skilled astronomer, so much so that overawed spectators believed that her priestesses caused eclipses and other phenomena rather than merely predicting them accurately. Her name meant 'wise or cunning one,' the source of healing and medicine. The Greeks called her mother Idryia 'knowledgable.' Like Demeter, she could restore the dead to life or renew the aged by placing them in her cauldron (womb). Another meaning of her name was 'mead of wisdom' referring back to the belief that menstrual blood was the source of all knowledge. Mead was sometimes considered synonymous with the nectar consumed on Mount Olympus because it was fermented from honey. Medea was also a Serpent Goddess, suggesting her as another guardian of women's mysteries.
Possessed of all wisdom and a great chariot drawn by fiery serpents, she was associated with the golden fleece and its power to call for protection of children and crops. Later this was shifted to Athena, and the golden fleece was carried during the Pompaea. The fourteen 'children' whom Medea left in the care of Hera's Korinthian temple when she left Jason were her priestesses, massacred when her rites were considered too violent... or perhaps they involved the return of traditions of female independence only recently stamped out.
Medea was unphased by all of this. After all, she had defeated the bronze giant Talos and dared to assist in the theft of the golden fleece. Ruler of Earth and Sky, she simply leapt aboard her chariot and left for the Elysian fields, where she acquired a new name, Angitia 'Snake Goddess.' Her popularity was greatest in Italy, where she ruled sorcery, healing herbs, and poison antidotes. Sicily, an island still famous for its witches became an important centre of her worship, rivaling the forest named for her near Lake Fucinus roughly 100 kilometres from Rome.
Classical writers tried to explain Medea as a daughter of Hekate or a priestess of Artemis or Hekate, a clear indication that both Goddesses were associated with astronomy and witchcraft. In fact, Medea's mother was Asterodeia 'Goddess of the Sun,' ruler of the Kaukasus mountains who may have been absorbed by Artemis. This Goddess was also mother of Chalkiope 'brazen face' ruler of Kos. Medea's own children included Eriopis 'many eyes' the sky, and Argus 'bright hound' embodiment of the Dog Star, Sirius.
Initially a Hunter Goddess and Lady of the Beasts of Kolchis named Aeaea 'ululation,' she became the funerary Goddess of the island known by her name. She was believed to have travelled there from Kolchis on the shores of the Black Sea by riding the Sun's rays. The ululations of her name became funeral laments, and she was renamed Kirke 'falcon' or 'circle.' Her name also closely resembles the word Kerkis 'weaver's shuttle.' The falcon was believed to carry the dead to the Goddess, while the circle was the Karmic wheel or the sometimes death dealing Sun. Her other totem bird was the periodically self-immolating phoenix. She was commonly said to weave on her island with her maidens. Sorceress and skilled astronomer, Homer suggested that she controlled the forces of nature by braiding and unbraiding her hair. Like the Sun or inexorable death, Kirke was hypnotically beautiful, and her daughter Kassiphone 'ensnaring voice' may have been a prototypical Siren.
Daughter of the Sun Goddess Perse or Perseis the 'lightbearer' or 'destroyer' who became the underworld Goddess Persephone 'she who shines for all or destroyer of all,' she also had an aunt, Klymene 'famous strength or famous Moon,' and several sisters. Kirke's sisters included Pasiphae 'wide shiner' owner of the Moon hare, Kalypso 'concealer,' Argeia 'bright,' and often Medea 'wise one' who was sometimes called her niece instead. Klymene's daughters were the keepers of golden horned cattle in the lands of the Dead, the Heliades. They were also keepers of oak and poplar trees, their fallen branches frequently used for fuel during sacrifices. Kirke was said to turn men into swine for sacrifices, which reflects changes in practice, rather than literal metamorphosis... changes from symbolically reaping grain or other food plants in the original ceremonies to sacrificing men (usually slaves) in patriarchal Greece. Literal human sacrifices were then superseded by animal sacrifices, since human sacrifice became understandably unpopular, and the ritual began to represent the annual death of the boar-god. The yule pig with an apple in its mouth comes from the similar origins.
Kirke lived in a cave in the midst of heavily forested Aeaea, surrounded by bears and wolves. Besides performing sacrifices, she presided over funeral games, hence the Latin circus, which was once an enclosure such games were held in. Greeks believed participating in such games could remove blood guilt for murder, leading to the Argonauts stopping at Aeaea. Hearing of Kirke dealing with an unwanted suitor by changing him into a pig and holding him hostage until friends came for him and he swore to leave her alone did nothing to discourage them. Neither did her assistance to her sister Aega 'shining one,' who was forced to hide underground for a time, which resulted in the divisions of day and night.
Today Aeaea has been identified with the peninsula of Monte Cristo, or an island at the mouth of the Po River on the Adriatic Sea. Kirke's friend Hals 'sea' leant her name to the Etruscan town of Halson Pyrgos 'Town of Hals,' yet but for the Argonauts and the reputation Southern Italy has for witches, little else is remembered of her.
According to the Greeks, Herakles' last wife and his murderer or his executioner. She was roughly connected to the Moon Goddess whose totem was the guinea fowl on Ogygia 'navel of the sea' and to the healing Goddess Althaea. Yet even the Greeks seemed confused about her. A warrior, yet incapable of defending herself. Independent, but willing to ally herself with the violent Herakles. Herakles is more closely identified with Tyrian Melkaart in the story of his death, hence his cremation and deification, another source of confusion.
Deianeira is in fact Athena herself, as shown by her fame as a warrior and chariot driver, and her shadow 'sister' Gorge, another hastily personified title. When Athena was known as 'she who strings together spoils,' and 'the grim' she was the Destroying Goddess. This can be interpreted in several ways. For example, that Athena had been pushed fully into the role of a Goddess with a dying year god for a consort who was in turn absorbed by the Greek Herakles. After consummating his marriage with the Goddess, he was dressed in ceremonial tunic, shot to death with poisoned arrows, and cremated. Or, Athena struck down Dorian Herakles with arrows in retaliation for his violent mistreatment of women and children.
A more provocative explanation for Herakles' end has been worked out by the expert in ancient textiles, Elizabeth Wayland Barber. In her studies of the various pigments used in ancient times, she found the purplish red sulfide of arsenic, realgar, often used to colour royal robes. Sometimes it was called dragon's blood because thin deposits of it were found smeared across harder rocks. Unfortunately for the individual wearing a garment coloured with realgar, the substance was deadly if kept in prolonged contact with the skin.
Herakles' deadly tunic then, may well have been coloured with crushed realgar. Like any king, he was reluctant to put aside the garment that was so important to his rank. Just before he died, Wayland Barber notes that he would have had excellent skin tone. However, this would have done him little good, as arsenic poisoning starts by causing headaches, confusion, and drowsiness, then progresses to convulsions, vomiting, hair loss, and stomach pain.
Eventually Deianeira was attached to Kalydonian Althaea because Arkadia was long a home of Amazons who lived in its mountains and forests independent of men. It was no stretch to imagine that Althaea's daughter lived in the same way, especially since Althaea was always remembered as an embodiment of matrilineal laws that prevented bloodshed among family members. When one of her sons killed the other, she had the murderer sent to the underworld. 'Althaea' means 'Great Goddess' or 'to cure' from the Greek name for the marshmallow. It has beneficent effects on the respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tract, and eases inflammation. Apparently Althaea could save or take life at will, and may have been an underworld judge of the dead.
Alosydne - the sea born
Boeopis - ox eyed
Gaeeochos - Earth surrounding
Halsodyne - sea born
Another pre-Hellenic Goddess of the ocean, particularly the Mediterranean, and also of islands on the ocean. These islands were the lands that Poseidon later coveted... meaning he coveted the world, for every continent is an island. Amphitrite passed her days shepherding the fish and sea mammals of the ocean, her nights dancing by the island of Naxos 'whetstone' (named for a formerly independent Goddess) or arranging underwater caves that contained her jewels, sea life such as coral and brightly coloured fish. These may be the ultimate source of the enduring belief that underwater treasures are hidden in difficult to access sea caves. Some of these treasures were only temporary deposits, as they were the souls of the dead who had been buried or died at sea.
Amphitrite may also be a Moon Goddess or mother of a triple Moon Goddess, as suggested by Robert Graves. The three Goddesses were called Tritone 'third queen,' Rhodes 'rosy coloured,' and Benthesikyme 'wave of the deep,' New, Full, and Old Moon respectively. When shown in art, Amphitrite wore a fishnet over her hair and a crab claw crown.
Ariadne, titled Minos 'light, or strength,' called Ariatha or Aratha 'nourisher' by the Etruscans, was the ruler not only of the summer Sun and waxing Moon, but also of the stars of the sky where she kept her crown, now called the Corona Borealis. She oversaw the underworld and the growth of plants and animals. Each soul was guided into the labyrinth by her immortal hands, and out again in order to give them rebirth. Spiritual, in the case of her physical shrines on Krete, and literal in the case of the tomb. Ariadne was worshipped beyond her home island, on Amathus and in Mykenae. Garlanded white bulls were sacrificed to her, their horns later used as sacred decorations in her shrines.
Ariadne was worshipped exclusively by women, and had at least two other known names, Dia 'Goddess,' and Aridela or Aridelos 'the very visible one.' Sometimes she was associated with a daughter Alkaea 'the mighty one' who may have been associated in turn with the star Sirius. The Sun and Moon Goddess Pasiphae 'she who shines for all' was considered her mother, and the Sun Goddess Phaedra 'shining one' her sister. The initiatory ordeal of her priestesses was suffered by the Goddess herself: she allowed herself to be hung by her wrists from the branches of a plane tree, and in the resultant period of unconsciousness... or death, depending who was telling the story, she passed into the underworld, learned its mysteries, then returned.
Years after the ruin of the Minoan culture by invasion, Athena absorbed most of her rites. Artemis was installed as the new titular Goddess of Naxos, formerly called Dia after Ariadne herself.
The First Doric Raid handed the Greeks their first defeat at the hands of the Thermodontine Amazons. Among the warriors who helped defend Themiskyra and give it its invulnerable reputation was Andromeda. A member of the ruling council and a follower of Athena, she bore a shield marked with a serpent. At the height of the final battle, Andromeda led a force that helped push the Greeks back to their boats and out to sea. Her service to her Nation and her Goddess were with such distinction that after her death, Athena placed her in the sky among the stars.
Alkidike - mighty justice; Persphone when judging the dead
Anesidora - she who sends up gifts
Bouphobe - cattle destroying
Brimo - furious one
Cherogonia - creating by hand
Daeria - knowing one
Deonia - daughter of De
Enodia - gatekeeper
Epaine - the awesome
Etephilia - lover of truth
Hermione - pillar queen
Kore - maiden; used at Eleusis
Melaina - black one; early name
Meltitodes - sweet as honey; title shared with Kore, used to refer to them when in the underworld
Pais - child
Pasikrateia - ruler of all
Persephassa - dove killing (?)
Plutos - riches
Praxidike - just action
Proserpine - Roman name for Persephone
Prsipnei - Etruscan name for Persephone
Pyrophoitos - she who walks on fire
Soteira - saviour; she who sows the seed
Thesmia - she who lays down
Persephone 'light bearing face or destroying face' began as Perse 'lightbearer or destroyer' a Greek Sun Goddess and possible waning Sun paired with the Goddess Elektra 'amber' as the waxing Sun. Daughter of the ocean and mother of Pasiphae and Kirke, like Athena Perse may have Kretan connections. In time, Persephone became the crone form of the Triple Demeter who metamorphosed into the maiden Kore during her time in the underworld. In other words, Persphone was the World Soul hidden inside the Earth before being rejuvenated. When this was forgotten, confusion between her and Kore was inevitable.
Elysium was sometimes considered Persephone's home of the blessed rather than Hera's, especially when she was accompanied by one of her snakes. Ruler of certain death, keeper of the keys to both heaven and hell, Persephone gathered up the souls of the recently dead. On her annual trip to the underworld, Persephone was accompanied by boars and pigs, one form attributed to the souls of the dead before rebirth. According to Homer, she was queen of this world and it was named Hades. Not until Hesiod is a god named Hades added to this seasonal cycle. Although not a mother herself in this form, by guiding souls to rebirth she ensured that living women could become mothers themselves. Helping her in this work were the Sirens and the Koronides 'ravens, crows, or maidens' who brought Persphone souls just as the Valkyries did to Freya. However, there were only two Koronides, Menippe 'Moon horse' and Metioche 'having arrows,' deified priestesses of Boeotian Orchomenos. They won full apotheosis by ending a famine there, possibly by introducing irrigation techniques badly needed in that part of Greece.
Persephone was strongly associated with Thrake, and her preferred companion in all places was Hekate. In fact, when she was called Praxidike, the ruler of oaths and punisher of oathbreakers, Persephone was depicted with a three faced head as Hekate sometimes was. During the Stenia, a women's night festival held in her honour and Demeter's, women were famous for using Aiskrhologia 'lewd words' sexually explicit language in honour of Iambe, and possibly passing on magical knowledge by word of mouth. This may also be the time when the Thesmoi 'things laid down' cakes in the shape of female genitals and snakes, and piglets were placed in Demeter's underground sanctuary. These may have been meant to feed or fertilize the Earth Mother, often considered synonymous for such Goddesses, or to help the souls of the recently deceased get to the underworld. But Persephone's major festival was the Genesia that honoured the dead with praises and lamentations, held on the fifth day of Boedromion in Athens.
Descriptions of Persephone are conflicting. On one hand she might be described as white, or the greenish white colour of the dead. On the other she might be described as black skinned. She wore a garland of asphodel, symbol of death and immortality, and shared the poppy and narcissus with Athena who with Artemis was sometimes called her sister. The black poplar and yew were sacred to her as Death Goddess, the white poplar or aspen and the pomegranate to her as Goddess of Regeneration. Rosemary, bay leaf, myrtle and mint were all used in burial rites. The use of mint in particular led to Persephone's absorption of Menthe, the underworld personification of the plant and takeover of Menthe's Mount Triphyle 'three leaved' in Bythynia. It was originally Persephone, not Athena, who wove the world on a loom inside a cave, accompanied by a sacred snake.
There were at least two other Goddesses associated with Persephone: Cyane 'dark in colour' the Water Goddess of Syracuse, and Herkyna 'she who protects the home.' Bulls were drowned in Cyane's sacred well, and the rape of one of her priestesses caused her to stop the rain and dry up the springs, inducing a famine. The crisis was not over until the rapist was executed. Herkyna had a cave, grove, and spring at Lebadeia. There people were purified by her priestesses before seeing the oracle of Trophonius. Persephone's daughter, named Melinoë or Chthonia visited the earth each night, causing fear and confusion. Persephone also absorbed several Goddesses, including Auxesia 'increase' the Kretan Goddess of growth and most famously, the Roman Goddess of seed germination Proserpina. Part of each Lupercalia was dedicated to Proserpina, and so she may have been the same as the Wolf Goddess Lupa.
Like Athena, Kore has both Anatolian and Kretan antecedents. Ker or Kar, inventor of charms and the alphabet was the first deity of Persia. The country was still called Karmania 'Kar of the Moon' into the time of Alexander. The name does not appear to be Indo-European, and on Krete meant 'bee' as in such words as kerinthos 'bee head' and related words. The word ker is also translated 'fate' and 'door,' because the Kretan Bee Goddess ruled the cycle of life and death. Death was every person's fate, just as every person was born of a woman. Doors were often symbolically the same as the the end of the birth canal. Yet another suggested etymology relates her name to koro 'sprout.' One of her holiest titles was Hagne 'holy one' a cognate of English 'hag.'
In the end, the Greeks simply couldn't accept this Goddess as she was, and split her in two. The word kardia 'heart,' but literally 'Goddess Kar' derives from her role as Heart and Soul of the World. The pentacle hidden inside each apple represented Kore and the hope of rebirth, an idea shared with Egypt. The underworld was represented in hieroglyphics by a five pointed figure inside a circle. Fifteen was a lucky number because it was a multiple of three, and in Greek numerology the values of the letters of Kore's name added up to it. Ker became the Greek Goddess of violent death, sister of Nyx and the Moirae whose favoured animal form was the black carrion crow. She was multiplied into the terrifying Keres, the many forms of violent death.
Needless to say, Kore was rather more popular. At Thelpousa she was identified with Despoena and worshipped there with her mother Demeter. Her companion was Admete, and Athena and Artemis were sometimes called her sisters. Various places were dedicated to her, including the Sicilian grasslands of Enna, the Kephissus river in Eleusis, Mount Kullene in Arkadia, and the plain of Mysia, which is considered mythical by most classical scholars. The festival of her birth, the Koreion, was the original holiday on twelfth night. On that day, besides the ubiquitous apple, celebrants may have worn lilies.
Latin Ceres, whose name is a cognate to Kore/Ker/Kar and was so similar to Demeter as to be absorbed by her was considered thoroughly benign by Roman times. However, as the co-queen of heaven with Juno and the original Legifera 'lawgiver or lawbearer' she probably once had a grim, justice bringing aspect. Ceres founded the Sabine line of queens and the more egalitarian, matrilineal legal system of early Rome and Tuscany. Her Matronae ruled the area around what is now Rome for over four hundred years. In 200 BCE they were violently replaced by the patriarchal tribes that became known as Romans. Among their first acts was the destruction of all the written records and laws of the Matronae. As the source of all food, Ceres continued to be worshipped, and her mid-June festival was celebrated without interruption until the 1800s.
Early in Egypt's First Dynasty, there ruled a Queen named Djet or Zet. This mysterious ruler, like Menes, has caused scholars considerable problems. She has an indisputably female name and a proper series of royal names, including one that used a specific and unique hieroglyphic form of the uraeus, the cobra all Egyptian pharaohs wore on their foreheads. Scholars insist she ruled for only ten years, which may or not be true, due to the notoriously variable number of years assigned to all dynasties, and the extreme antiquity of the first. Most difficult of all, Queen Zet was represented as the great Cobra Goddess Herself, better known as Wadjet or Djet whose form was that of a woman or a winged serpent. All Egyptian Goddesses were formerly considered aspects of Wadjet 'Cobra Goddess'... Budge considered Isis herself just one more form of this ancient deity. In Lower Egypt, few animals were as sacred as the snake, and few deities were as popular or as powerful in the Old Kingdom.
The Neter, deified female ancestors, visited the living in the form of snakes according to the ancient Egyptians, and the Bari tribe of Sudan still believe this. The writing these grandmothers invented was known as medoo-neter 'words of the mothers' long after the priests of Ra took over the temples. These priests despised the Neter and tried to reduce Wadjet to the tame serpent of Ra, because they could not win the love and respect those ancestors had from ordinary Egyptians, even when the gods were dressed up in artificial breasts. Similar to how the Hebrew priests treated their Goddesses, the priests of Ra edited them out of the sacred writings and religious ritual as far as possible, reducing the lot to a confused morass after the Old Kingdom. Yet even then, Wadjet's power was still remembered. After all, she seems to be the very poisonous snake who bit Ra and so forced him to give up his secret name to Isis, giving her absolute power over him in exchange for saving his life. The ancient Egyptian determinative sign for 'priestess' and 'Goddess' was always a snake, just as the vulture, a form of Wadjet's twin Nekhbet (Neith), was for 'queen' and 'grandmother.'
Wadjet's name has also been translated 'she who is green' from the word wad which means green, fresh, lucky, or happy. The rising of the Nile drove out the many snakes that always keep close to water, and so Wadjet was also called Seby 'guide serpent,' the leading cobra who led the work to guide the Nile over its banks. Another of her names was Saryet 'she who causes to ascend' which may refer to the flood, to evaporation, or even to the Sun. She could be synonymous with the Nile or the Sun. This is particularly suggestive in view of the fact that Hapy, the official 'male' personification of the Nile, had pendulous breasts and a pregnant belly. Other names of Wadjet that referred to her as the bringer of luck and fertility include Tefnet 'moisture,' Renenet 'Nurse Goddess' from a root meaning to rejoice, caress, and bring up, and Rennewtet 'Harvest Goddess.' She likely had still other names referring to her as a prophetic deity, for her temple Per-Uatchet ('House of Wadjet') was an oracular shrine.
But Wadjet was not always benign. She could become angry, either in defense of her people or because of wrong behaviour. In this case, Wadjet was the Sun, especially when called 'i'rt 'She Who is Risen' a name with a root that is also the basis for the word 'uraeus.' Just what was rising again could be ambiguous: was it the Sun, the Cobra, or the Nile? All of these could be benign or threatening. When angry, Wadjet was particularly fond of the form of the spitting cobra, and was then known as the Mistress of Fear and Mistress of Might. Also known as Weret Hekaw 'She who is Great in Magic,' it may well have been her curse rather than her bite that originally struck down Ra – though the two things are of course, metaphorically equivalent. In battle, Wadjet was fully expected to beat the enemy with tongues of flame, and was called Nesert 'Flaming Female Serpent' or 'flame of the uraeus.'
The cobra was synonymous with the eye and female power in Lower Egypt, a feature absorbed by Neith-Nekhbet of Upper Egypt. Both could withhold their blessings and depose rulers, and in this capacity Wadjet was exalted as Nesert and as Iaret or Weret 'She who is Great.' Her union with Neith-Nekhbet represented the unification of Egypt.
Achaea - griever; used at Luceria by the Romans
Castitis - protector of olive trees
Ergatis - work woman
Letham - an Etruscan Goddess absorbed by Minerva
Mensa - measurer of time; Moon; originally an independent Goddess
Nerio - valour; captured arms were dedicated to her
Parthenos - virgin
Pylotis - of the narrow pass
Saïs - from the Egyptian city of the same name
Salus - health; originally a separate Goddess of healing and agriculture with possible Sabine connections
Tritonia - third queen; eldest
The Crone figure of the original Capitoline triad, Minerva ruled wisdom, work, education, and war. Beginning as an Etruscan Goddess, Mnrva, her birth was attended by the mysterious Goddess Ethausva. In time she became highly popular in Rome, where her protection was regularly invoked for the Roman population at large, apparently by priestesses at her chapel at the foot of one of the city's seven hills, because no flamen was assigned to control her worship. Minerva was strongly associated with the Moon and accordingly absorbed the Etruscan Goddess Mensa and the arts of which she was a patron, including invention and calculation of calendars, measuring in general, numbers, tables, and recordkeeping. In these functions Minerva appears to overlap significantly with Vesta, whose calendar table has already been mentioned. Two days were dedicated to Minerva: March 19, the Quinquatrus and June 13, the Quinquirtus Minores. The March festival was a school holiday and teacher payday, when each instructor received their minerval. Eventually it was extended from one day to five, March 19 to 23.
Hints of the Goddess' deeper nature persist in artifacts surviving from classical to late imperial times. The Praneste cista shows Minerva creating Mars by casting a bronze statue preparatory to giving it life. In still other images, a three headed dog similar to Greek Kerberus waits patiently to seize the souls of those Minerva finds wanting as they wait to enter the underworld.
The famed elder sister of Inanna, called Allatu by the Akkadians, Ereshkigal has a number of curiously gorgon-like attributes. She was possessed of a death-dealing gaze, and 'leek-like' long, black hair, that is, dreadlocks. Giant in size, Ereshkigal 'Queen of the Great Below' or 'Queen of the Great Earth' absorbed the dead into herself, suggesting that she was in fact synonymous with the earth in which Sumerians were customarily buried. Later writers claimed that Ereshkigal received the underworld as her share after the division of the world, probably the earliest version of the world division, when land rose from the divine ocean Tiamat.
Today what is often referred to as 'the underworld' was not necessarily synonymous with the places Ereshkigal ruled. Several of the common 'euphemisms' for Ereshkigal's domain include: kur 'mountainius country, foreign lands,' kigal 'the great place,' edin 'the steppe,' and later aruli 'the land of no return.' In other words, Ereshkigal was first conceived of as the ruler of a wilderness at the end of the Sumerian known world, described as surrounded by 'rainbow gardens' called Irkalla or Kirgalla. True to her mountainous home, Ereshkigal could appear as a lion headed woman sailing on one of the rivers, gazing on the offerings set out for her by mortals.
The wild/cultivated division demarked by rivers was a natural one for the people of Sumeria, who lived between the Tigris and the Euphrates, below their confluence near present day Baghdad, and appear to have started from the present day Shatt-al-Arab, an area of reed marshes. Hedging in the river valleys were and are mountains and steppes, harsh lands considered difficult to live in. Later this lead to a tradition stating that the underworld was a dreary, nasty place, where the dead were ghostlike and eaters of dust, contradicting Ereshkigal's role as consumer and rebirther of the dead. The Hittites referred to Ereshkigal's domain as the dark earth 'dankuis,' the Hurrians referring to it as 'the deep' turi.
Ereshkigal was already ancient in period when the Sumerians began to use writing for other than accounting purposes. Old Sumerian offering lists mention her and her temples, and she had a temple in Ur called the place of fate, Kinamtarida, dated to approximately 4 200 years ago.
With the development of astronomy and astrology in Mesopotamia, seven gates to seven worlds corresponding to the seven heavenly bodies were imagined to make up the upperworld, with corresponding mirror versions in the underworld. Each heavenly body was believed to pass below the earth at night, including Venus, the planet embodied by Inanna herself. The doorway to the underworld was named Ganzir, and near it was Ereshkigal's palace, built wholly of lapis lazuli, Egalgina 'place of justice.'
Sumerian Goddesses, like Sumerian women, were in charge of mourning and funerary rites, and so it should some as no surprise that a fundamental myth of death and rebirth should have the two great Sumerian Goddesses of the upper and under worlds at its centre. In the story of the descent of Inanna, which originally does not appear to have involved the mortal shepherd Dumuzi, Inanna readies herself to descend to Ereshkigal's palace, and face her powerful elder sister. Specifically, she girds herself about with the me, a term Gwendolyn Leick says likely derives from the Sumerian word for the verb 'to be.' The me were a whole collection of things that were at once divine powers, cultural norms, and ability to meet obligations. They were neither exclusively positive nor exclusively negative, and their holder was empowered by them and totally responsible for their use.
In the course of her descent, Inanna gives up some of the me, which are then taken to Ereshkigal, until at last she comes into her sister's presence, ostensibly with nothing. For her part, Ereshkigal is groaning alone in heavy labour, bitter and angry at being left alone at such an important and difficult time. What, or rather who, she is re-birthing, are the Dead. This is no mean feat to achieve alone, and the Great Queen of the Below was surely in no mood to deal with her younger sister and her quest.
Wisely, Inanna realizes that she has in fact come into her sister's presence with at least one me still, love and compassion. And so she settled herself in to help Ereshkigal give birth, wiping her brow, listening to the older Goddess' words and calls. When at last the Dead have been reborn, and Ereshkigal is able to relax a little on her throne, and ask just why Inanna has come to her palace in the Great Below. The versions of the story that have come down to us seem to be rather foggy on this point, but in all likelihood Inanna had come to gain knowledge and power over death and disease. Her journey has many qualities of shamanic initiation to it, and accordingly Ereshkigal tells her how Inanna may gain what she seeks.
Ereshkigal were fix her with her death dealing gaze. Her scribe, Geshtinanna, will note Inanna's name down in the long roles recording the names of the dead. Then her daughters, Ningal and Ninazu will take the stricken Inanna and hang her from a meathook. There she will be left to rot, until there is no flesh on her bones. Then Ereshkigal herself will resurrect her. Only after this will Inanna receive the knowledge and power she seeks. It is at this point that Inanna recognizes that she still has yet another me, trust. She agrees to the terms, and Ereshkigal strikes her down with her deadly gaze.
Geshtinanna, whose name has an obvious relationship to Inanna's and has been translated as 'Queen of the Grapevine' promptly stepped forward to play her role. This little known Goddess is always associated with Ereshkigal, and is also called Gashnandubsar 'scribe of the underworld,' appropriately enough. Like Ereshkigal, she initially lived on the steppes. Unlike Ereshkigal, Geshtinanna was sometimes seen in the form of an old woman, or wearing a multicoloured cloak to interpret dreams, one of her other specialties. The Akkadians called her Belet-Seri 'Queen of the Open Countryside.'
Little recorded survives about Ninazu, and only somewhat more about Ningal. Ningal is not identified in Sumerian texts until very late in the use of the language, when it was being used exclusively for religious purposes. Hymns and prayers were composed in her honour, and besides being a daughter of Ereshkigal and underworld deity in her own right, also interpreted dreams and worked various types of magic. The Hurrians called her Nikkal.
Ultimately, Ereshkigal does indeed recover Inanna's bones with flesh and return her to life. The story fragments do not tell directly that she gave Inanna what she desired, but it seems likely since she ascends to the upperworld again, gaining back all of the me she had given up on the way to the underworld. But this is no pure triumph over death; Inanna will have to descend again to help her sister in her rebirthpangs when the time comes.
Athena and the Flute
Banquets attended by deities ran in much the same way as those attended by mortals. At those attended by Greek deities, the first cup of wine was poured for Themis. Then there were at least three toasts afterward, to the Charites, to Aphrodite, and to Eris. After the meal, if there was one, since ambrosia and nectar are liquids and dictate a drinking party, one or more deities performed music or poetry. It was at such a gathering that Athena debuted one of her inventions, the double flute.
She had carved it from the bones of a stag, and delighted the guests with it. The later story that she threw it away for reasons of vanity gave men an excuse to insist that flute playing was 'unladylike' and that women in general were ludicrously vain. Yet the flute was often played by women, especially in sacred settings. Athena invented the single piped flute as well, carving the first set of such flutes from the bones of an eagle. The bones were inherently sacred, since in life the eagle travelled the sky, home of the divine.
The Birth of Athena
In the days when children counted by their mothers, the Goddess Metis ruled by the shores of Lake Tritonis. She was known far beyond Amazonia as a deity great in kindness and wisdom, and even foreign deities like Zeus took her counsel. Libyan Amazonia was huge and stretched as far as the Nile, where some Amazons worshipped Pasht, Queen of Cats. Other people of the region wondered at the mysterious women in leather and brightly coloured cloth who plied Lake Tritonis, sometimes with spears, others with nets.
At the centre of the lake was a small island, and there was Metis' shrine, where she sat on a solid stone throne carved with lions and geese. From there she gazed out at the world, and it was from there that she saw the Egyptian queen Mene finally succeed in unifying the lands of Egypt. Then she saw the Egyptians become aggressive, pushing those they considered foreigners away from the Nile. Soon Amazonia itself had been pushed West, and other tribes clashed with the women of the Nation. An Egyptian army marched toward Amazonia from the East, and strange people from the South who knew no Goddess came from the desert.
And Metis became enraged at the damage done to her people, and the disrespect for the land, and stormed furiously on her island in the night. From her furrowed brow sprang a new Goddess, armed and full grown. Where Metis was kindly, she was angry and roaring. Where Metis built and created, she destroyed. Binding wings to her ankles and the burning Sun on her mantle, Athena sprang from Lake Tritonis to face the hostile armies.
She came among them with starting eyes, lolling tongue and snaky hair, striking fear everywhere she went. Hurling her spears of lightning and roaring like a storm, Athena broke the armies and sent them fleeing into the desert. Then she changed form into a terrible lion, and pursued the terror-stricken Egyptians to the very Nile. So great was her rage and power that she did terrible damage and killed many people, and the Egyptians never forgot her, calling her Sekhmet the Enraged, although they forgot why she was angry. Athena raged until the Nile rose out of its banks, covering the Sun scorched land in fertile silt. Only then did Athena return to the land of the Amazons, and her rage will never be released again, until the end of the world.
Pegasus and the Bridle
Pegasus was a divine, flying horse that sprang from the sweat of Athena's brow as she fought the enemies of the Amazons in the desert. He was a fine animal, and many men and women alike wished to tame him and claim that they owned him. But no one could catch him, by guile or by force, and the rough saddles and halters good for asses were of no use with Pegasus, even if by some miracle someone got one about his neck.
Athena, watching the efforts of kings and commoners, tricksters and daredevils fail, chuckled. Even gods had tried to capture Pegasus, who outran the wind and outsoared the eagles. They mocked Athena as she sat on a rock in the Straits of Cyrene, fiddling with some rope and two bronze rings. 'We attempt great things, and you, you play with a child's toy!' they sneered. Athena merely smiled enigmatically.
Pegasus was her child after all, and he came without question when she called. 'Tell me why you allow none to ride on your back, my son.' Athena said gravely.
'And why should I allow them? All of these people want to put me in a cage, and keep me as a pet, and the ropes they try to put around my neck would strangle me.'
'Well, I certainly don't consider you a pet... rather difficult to call a talking horse with wings a pet... and I have something here that would not choke you, and allow those whom you chose to ride on your back, if that suited you.'
So it was that Athena soared through the sky on Pegasus' back, the first bridle in the world snugly about his head. Everywhere people wondered at Athena's strange device made of bronze rings and hempen rope, or how she had ever been able to tame the flying horse.
The Return of the Sun
Long before the invaders came from the North, Athena was carried to many places by her Amazons. So it was that her bright robes and gleaming dark skin could be seen from the Atlas mountains to the sandy shores of Krete and Anatolia. Wherever she drove her chariot her aegis lit up the entire sky, and people sang and danced in her honour, glad for the Sun. But peace rarely lasts long when there are restless people in the world who think a sword gives them the right to take what they want.
The Mykenaeans were once such a people, and they began by disrupting trade and ended by taking over Krete itself. The temples and sanctuaries didn't impress them, so they burned the cities and threw waste in the sacred pools. They even went so far as to throw down statues and mistreat priestesses. What few Amazons who were still on the island were driven away altogether. Finally the Mykenaean king proclaimed himself a god and raped Athena's high priestess.
Enraged beyond placation even after she struck down the evil king, still Athena remembered the fullness of her rage would end the world. So she withdrew instead, and disappeared into a cave and from there to the underworld, determined never to return to the ungrateful upper world again.
Of course, there was no daylight, and it became cold and wintry. The new Mykenaean king called on his god, having been careful not to call himself one, and his god puffed himself up and created a great fire that he put in the sky. Its weak light gave some relief of the inky dark but nothing else, and now food was running short. The new king was in imminent danger of being deposed. Desperate, he began calling on all of his priests and sorcerers to use their magic and bring back the Sun. One after the other failed, and the Mykenaeans despaired, and paid no mind when the Minoans sent a delegation to Aralakhori, where Iambe made bronze pots and hand mirrors, and danced and sang away illness when asked.
When the Minoans asked her to bring back the Sun, she smiled enigmatically and shooed them away, returning to work on a huge bronze mirror. It was so big she had to limp carefully around its circumference as she polished, or the reflections in it would have been imperfect. Some of the Minoans now despaired as well. Others said, 'Who understands the ways of shamans? She didn't say no.'
And sure enough, after three days, Iambe limped to the area in front of the cave Athena had disappeared into. The ground was full of snow and ice, and the cave was shut tight. Not even air came from it. As if to be sure the cave was shut, Iambe beat the rock closing it with one fist a few times. Then she set up the great bronze mirror, and all sorts of torches until the clearing was lit up almost like Athena was driving across the sky.
'Artemis,' called Iambe. 'Help me out, could you?'
'I could.' replied Artemis, who wasn't talkative to begin with, and was less so now that her sister had locked herself away and their Amazons were fighting invaders everywhere.
'Please shoot that ridiculous fire of Zeus' out of the sky. He's so proud... you'd think he'd be embarrassed to put that there.'
'You could think that about a lot of things he does.' replied Artemis as she strung her bow. One shot, and it was dark everywhere but the clearing.
'Excellent.' declared Iambe. Resettling her robes and her headdress, she began to dance. People dropped what little they were doing and rushed to watch, for it was no ordinary dance. Well, this is true for every dance a shaman does, but for this dance it was even more unusual. It was lascivious and explicit, and as it went on Iambe began to shed her clothes and her many bracelets. The dance went on until people were feeling sweaty and not a little uncomfortable. Finally one of the Minoan women let loose with a catcall, and soon the air was full of clapping and cheering. Someone brought out wine and beer, and the crowd was soon having a rowdy party with Iambe's dance at the centre.
Athena could hear the commotion, but she stubbornly stayed in the underworld, preparing souls for rebirth. This was just what she was doing when Artemis padded up to her. Unlike most deities, anywhere there were shadows, she could go. Artemis just couldn't convince Athena to go back to the upper world with her.
'You're missing an incredible show, sister. Iambe has all but outdone herself.' she said, idly fingering her bow.
'I'm busy.' Athena declared stubbornly.
'Come and see.' and since desperate times called for desperate measures, Artemis grabbed her sister by the arm and dragged her to the cave mouth, blocked by the great stone. 'Go on, take a peek. You'll regret it if you miss everything.'
'Oh, all right.' sighed Athena. She was still determined to stay in the underworld, but she could see what Iambe was doing.
Iambe saw the cave open just a little, and now she began to dance even harder than before. She leapt on top of a rock in front of the bronze mirror and threw off her final robe, leaving only her short skirt. One more gyration, and now certain she had Athena's undivided attention, Iambe threw aside her short skirt... and Athena stuck her head completely out of the cave to see better in spite of herself.
Knowing there wasn't a moment to lose, Iambe leapt out of the way of the mirror, so Athena got to see her own beautiful face. Then Iambe waved at the crowd, and soon had them all calling for Athena to come back. Touched by their pleas and renewed by her own beauty, Athena left the cave and daylight and spring came again.
Some say that in the beginning, all elements were mixed together, in Chaos. There was no differentiation between hot and cold, wet and dry, light and dark, or any of the rest. But it is not true that nothing existed... everything existed, it was simply all jumbled together as potential. Observing and in the midst of the unseparated everything was an Intelligence. As yet, the Intelligence had no name. It needed none, because there was were no different intelligences needing to communicate with it yet. But this was a situation the Intelligence had determined to change.
First, the Intelligence needed to take a useful form to work in. And so she did, with eight legs and a slim, two segmented body that could lay eggs. She was coloured all black except for a red mark on her back and tiny bright white spots on the bottom of each foot. Sometimes deities in India have eight limbs too... perhaps they hark back to this first form taken by the Intelligence.
Next the Intelligence decided she needed a name... since she was going to birth other intelligences, and a universe for them to live in. She considered this as she began to spin silk, one of nine kinds that she created for varied uses, producing a great wheel, and spiraling slowly towards its centre. Once there, she called herself Athena Ariadne, Athena the Weaver, and began to spin lassoes. With these she corralled each of the elements, earth, water, air, and fire, and fixed them in order. She created giant spheres of matter, and one of these she wound so tightly in silk, it burst into flame and became a star. This she did in many places until the great darkness of the newly separated sky twinkled with countless lights.
Now she turned her attention to the other spheres, places that were not stars, but orbited them, travelling along great loops of silk. Systematically, patiently, Athena descended to each one, suspended from a tether line of silk attached to the great warp she had strung the entire universe upon. At each place, she laid many eggs, the seeds of life.
Pleased after she had finished that task, she turned busily to another. She went about the new universe, tending each part, spinning and weaving the threads of time, place, reality, and fate. Then she wove the lives of the many new intelligences, some smaller and shorter, some bigger and longer. Not until she finished a particular life's cloth, filling it with pictures of the events and epiphanies of each being's life did that life end.
In time, the new creatures began to notice Athena Ariadne in the sky, patiently carrying great balls of silver thread around it. First one way, slowly using it up, then the other, producing more. They began to realize that she had made the universe, and that the many tiny eight legged creatures on their worlds must be direct reflections of herself. And when they had developed this knowledge, Athena gave them the gift of still more... she taught them how to make fire, and that the clean webs of the smaller reflections of herself would staunch the bleeding of wounds and help prevent infection. So it was that some people began to call her 'nous kai dianoia,' primeval power and wisdom, or action and intelligence.
This is how Athena Ariadne wove the world... and when the end of this world has come, she will take hold of its very fabric, the warp and weft she created herself, and tear them to shreds, releasing the elements back into Chaos. And then, ever industrious, she will begin creating again.