In my previous blog post, “Sexuality and Politics,” I talked about Aphrodite as Dark Goddess combining the political and the erotic. In this post I explore her connection with death and the fear of death. I also describe my experiences as a member of the antiracist-antifascist movement in Greece. Confronting the Neo-Nazis has taught me quite a lot. Read on to find out more about these struggles!
Τhe Gift of the Dark Goddess
The society we live in operates in paradoxical ways as two opposite forces are clashing. One of them is showing its appalling face while the financial crisis is still affecting large parts of the world. Greece is suffocating under severe austerity measures and neoliberal policies. The hurricane that has hit our economy is threatening to plunge our lives into chaos. The sharp rise in poverty is sweeping across the whole country. According to official statistics, one out of four people cannot find work; the reality is of course much worse.
A system that turns crueler and crueler every day needs someone to blame, so it looks for scapegoats to divert people’s anger. Immigrants and refugees are routinely pushed into this role. They can easily be demonized and portrayed as the source of all evil. They become the Other—they are poor, often dark-skinned, and usually Muslim. Islamophobia and racism go hand in hand these days.
Greek and other European governments have frequently played the racism card, which has resulted in breeding the monster of fascism. Thus, Neo-Nazism has become a force to be reckoned with all over Europe. Greeks have first-hand experience of what it means to be occupied by Nazis. The rising popularity of far-right parties is frightening, bringing back memories of Hitler, World War II, and the Holocaust. But fascists are not content with parliamentary power. They want to take over the streets. Their party, Golden Dawn, has succeeded in forming gangs that roam Athens at night, armed with knives and other weapons. They brutally attack their targets: immigrants, people of color, LGBTQI+ people, and activists of the left.
In the recent past, they were easily able to get away with murder. Financed by the state and rich businessmen, supported by the police, promoted by the media, and pampered by the judicial system, they seemed invincible. Not anymore.
You see, Greece has a strong tradition of resistance—another force that cannot be ignored. The workers’ and youth movements have made their presence felt over and over. Strikes, demonstrations, rallies, and sit-ins, whether small or large, are part of our everyday reality. In just four years, from 2010, when the austerity measures were imposed, to 2014, there were more than 20,000 mobilizations, according to the police’s records. Quite an impressive number for a country with a population of under 11 million people!
Moreover, Greek and immigrant workers have sometimes joined forces. Thousands of people have marched in antiracist-antifascist demonstrations. Activist lawyers are tirelessly fighting in courts trying to put the racist murderers behind bars—and keep them there. This powerful movement has won important victories although the battle is far from over.
Over the years I have taken part in a large number of antiracist-antifascist marches and rallies. During that process, I have also had to confront my fears. Activists, some of them members of the organization I belong to, have been targeted by Nazi thugs. You can never be sure who their next victim is going be. But for me the scariest moment was in September 2013, when the police attacked us while we were heading towards the Golden Dawn headquarters to protest. After an exhausting march of miles and miles, we were cornered in unfamiliar streets, dark and narrow. Police brutality is aimed at breaking the movement and protecting the Neo-Nazis.
Sometimes I am asked the question: is it worth risking your own safety to protect others? To this I have to respond with another question: if a country ends up ruled by fascists, do you think anyone will be safe? The present-day admirers of Hitler capitalize on our fears. By attacking people on the streets, they are trying to spread feelings of terror. They have a plan: to terrorize us into submission.
Thus, a major issue surfaces: who controls the streets? By mobilizing thousands people, the antifascist movement is saying that our neighborhoods don’t belong to knife-wielding thugs. There is power in numbers, which gives us courage. “Take to the streets and destroy the terror” is one of our mottos.
Yet the danger is still there, so the fear never goes away completely. To be an activist means that you have to confront it. When you consciously choose to risk your safety, questions surface: what is worth dying for? And what is worth living for? Life takes on a different meaning that way; it becomes a service to something larger and more important than oneself. It acquires a profound sense of purpose.
Confronting one’s fears is the gift of the Dark Goddess. I have found that accepting my mortality has lessened the fear of death. My fascination with the dark has led me over the years to come close to deities connected to the Underworld, such as Persephone, Pluto, and Osiris. I was amazed to discover that even Aphrodite was associated with death: she was called Androphonos (Man-Killer), Epitymbia (Of the Tombs) and Tymborykhos (Grave-Digger). Sometimes the title Persephaessa was attributed to her, identifying her with Persephone, the Queen of the Dead.
The Dark Goddess challenges us to step beyond our comfort zones and stretch our limits. Facing what we are most afraid of is the path to transformation. In our struggle to change society, we cannot help but change ourselves too. More and more we realize that we can only protect ourselves by working to defend the rights of others—above all, the right to live with dignity and freedom.
Image: Gravestone of Apollonia. The girl is depicted stroking a dove and holding a pomegranate, symbols of both Persephone and Aphrodite. Greek, made in Athens, about 100 BCE. Getty Villa. Photo by the author.
 LGBTQI+: Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Queer Intersex. The plus symbol stands for other non-heterosexual orientations.
 Androphonos: Plutarch, 768 Α. Epitymbia: Plutarch, Quaest. Rom. 269Β. Tymborykhos: Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation 33 P.
 Persephaessa: An inscription quoted in the treatise On Marvelous Things Heard (145), a work falsely attributed to Aristotle, reports that Hercules established in Thebes a precinct honoring Aphrodite Persephaessa.