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!
A Greek independent scholar, Harita Meenee is researching women’s history, the Hellenic and Graeco-Egyptian cultures, as well as the Sacred Feminine. She lives in Athens, Greece, where she studied classical literature and languages; her graduate studies were in the fields of counseling and archetypal psychology. She has translated W.K.C. Guthrie’s Orpheus and Greek Religion; her English adaptations of ancient and modern Greek poetry have been included in various anthologies and journals. Continue reading
“I am the bread of life.” This phrase is put in the mouth of Jesus in the Gospel According to John.  Again and again he declares himself to be “the true bread from heaven,” “the bread of God which … gives life to the world,” “the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world,” he solemnly announces.
Yet the “bread of life” did not come down from heaven; it came from the hands of women and was one of the most important kinds of food in antiquity, sustaining people in good as well as in hard times. Interestingly, the word for wheat, sitos, became synonymous with “food.”
I am lucky enough to live in Kifissia, a lovely green suburb of Athens, Greece. Not far from my home there’s a quiet place with meadows and olive groves. I love taking meditative walks there. Last summer, as I was walking, I came across a snakeskin. I felt chills down my spine as I remembered the powerful symbolism of transformation associated with a creature that can literally shed its skin.
This made me think that the forces of change are always with us. They’re part of nature as much as they’re part of our inner landscape and our social environment. Living in Greece has given me ample opportunity to experience the winds of change time and again these past few years.
Sometimes what we most fear is precisely what we need to face. What may seem as impending doom may in fact be a propelling force towards a much-needed process of renewal. Which brings us to the topic of this blog post: for a very long time, the snake has been a powerful symbol of death and rebirth. Interestingly, it was also sacred to Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, the patron goddess of Athens, which is now the capital of Greece.
I’ve always felt a special affinity to the snake. As a teenager, I used to draw a serpent coiled around my ring finger. This much maligned animal seems to carry a message: facing your fears can be a path to regeneration and wisdom. Exploring the hidden meanings of the snake has become a source of inspiration for me. Allow me to share with you a part of an essay I wrote about Athena as Snake Goddess.
The movement that challenges the dominant models of sexuality and relationships demanding the rights of LGBTQI* people has become a truly hot topic. The bearded face of Conchita Wurst, the transgender woman who won the Eurovision singing contest, still haunts the mind of people around Europe. The request for the acceptance of same-sex marriages is heard again and again in Greece, as well as in other countries.
Moreover, we recently witnessed three massive Pride Festivals. On the island of Cyprus, where this event was organized for the very first time, there was a surprising turnout of 4,000-5,000 people. The city of Thessaloniki in Northern Greece, holding its own festival on the day of the Summer Solstice, followed suit. Athens Pride celebrated its tenth birthday with an estimated 20,000 participants—quite an impressive number.
As a human rights activist, I wouldn’t miss this festival for anything in the world. It presented a wonderful opportunity to speak out against sexism and sexual oppression of any kind. This is something we particularly need in a country dominated by the Church and struggling with the dangerous rise of the Neo-Nazis, who already have blood on their hands.
To trace the connection between the gardens of Aphrodite and Adonis on the one hand and the garden of the Resurrection on the other, we have to examine if the cult of Adonis was ever prevalent in Palestine. Although he is known as a Hellenic deity, it seems that his worship was imported to Greece in the 7th c. BCE from the Middle East. His name is linked to the Semitic Adon, which means “Lord.” In some ways he is similar to Tammuz (or Dumuzi), honored by women from Mesopotamia to Syro-Palestine, across languages and cultures. As Reed points out, the Greek celebrants of the Adonia “had their counterparts in the women of Jerusalem weeping for Tammuz at the north gate of the temple, excoriated in Ezekiel, 8:14-15.”
Inanna and the Song of Songs
The Jewish prophet Ezekiel wrote during the early 6th c. BCE, but Tammuz/Dumuzi comes from a much older era. He was the consort of Ishtar/Inanna, an Eastern version of Aphrodite, who also happened to be associated with a “holy” and “luxuriant” garden, as reported in the epic of Gilgamesh. Furthermore, when she sings her song of love to Dumuzi, she calls him “my desirable apple garden,” “my fruitful garden of meš trees,” and “my shaded garden of the desert.”
What possible connection could there be between the sacred gardens of Aphrodite and the resurrection of Jesus? Interestingly, according to the Gospel of John, his burial occurred in a garden, not far from the place of his crucifixion. When Mary Magdalene reached his tomb, she found it empty, to her great sorrow:
But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).
Μια γυναικεία μορφή κρατάει τρυφερά στην αγκαλιά της ένα βρέφος, προσφέροντάς του το στήθος της. Μια εικόνα τόσο οικεία και τόσο μαγική
συνάμα. Ανακαλεί τη δική μας βρεφική ηλικία, καθώς μας κάνει ν’ αναπολούμε υποσυνείδητα τις γλυκές στιγμές που ζήσαμε στη μητρική αγκαλιά. Μια εμπειρία πανανθρώπινη, η οποία διασχίζει τις αμέτρητες χιλιετίες της ύπαρξης του είδους μας πάνω στον πλανήτη.
Η Μάνα και το Βρέφος. Μορφές που αποτυπώθηκαν στην πέτρα, στον πηλό, στις χρωματιστές επιφάνειες ναών και τάφων. Περιβλήθηκαν με πλήθος νοήματα και συμβολισμούς μες στους αιώνες, απόκτησαν διαστάσεις θεϊκές, καθώς δεν έπαψαν ποτέ να μιλούν στην ψυχή των ανθρώπων. Αβίαστα έρχεται στο νου η γλυκιά όψη της Παναγίας με το μικρό Ιησού. Κι όμως, αν στρέψουμε το βλέμμα μας πιο βαθιά στο χρόνο, θα δούμε να περνούν από μπροστά μας σαν ταινία πλήθος διαφορετικές μορφές της Βρεφοκρατούσας.
Η Κουροτρόφος και η Βρεφοκρατούσα Ίσιδα
Μια απ’ αυτές τις μορφές είναι η Κουροτρόφος από το Σέσκλο της Θεσσαλίας, ένα πήλινο αγαλματάκι γυναίκας καθιστής σε σκαμνί που κρατάει σφιχτά ένα μωρό
στην αγκαλιά της. Πανάρχαιο εύρημα, νεολιθικό – οι αρχαιολόγοι το τοποθετούν στα 4800-4500 π.0. Εξίσου παλιά, ίσως κι ακόμη αρχαιότερα, είναι τα ειδώλια των Κουροτρόφων από την Μεσοποταμία. Ένα απ’ τα πιο εντυπωσιακά έχει το πρόσωπο ερπετού, δηλώνοντας τα πολλαπλά του νοήματα. Στην Κύπρο ένα παρόμοιο εύρημα εμφανίζεται με πρόσωπο πουλιού. Η ένωση ανθρώπου-ζώου μέσα στην τέχνη δίνει τη μυθική διάσταση των όντων – δεν πρόκειται για ανθρώπινες γυναίκες αλλά κατά πάσα πιθανότητα για θεές.
Η λέξη Κουροτρόφος προέρχεται από το ρήμα τρέφω και το ουσιαστικό κοῦρος: (αγόρι) ή κούρη (κόρη, κορίτσι). Ο τίτλος αυτός δινόταν σε ποικίλες θεές, όπως η Άρτεμη, που θεωρείται και προστάτιδα των παιδιών, και η Ειλείθυια, αρμόδια για τον τοκετό. Αποδόθηκε – τι σύμπτωση! – και στην Παναγία. Ο Ακάθιστος Ύμνος την προσφωνεί: «Χαῖρε, καλὴ κουροτρόφε παρθένων».
Όμως, η πιο διάσημη βρεφοκρατούσα πριν την Παναγία ήταν η Ίσιδα, η οποία συχνά παρουσιάζεται να κρατά ή και να θηλάζει τον μικρό Ώρο. Είναι η αρχετυπική Μητέρα, εκείνη που ακτινοβολεί τη στοργή, τη συμπόνια, την καλοσύνη. Η προέλευσή της χάνεται στα βάθη των αιώνων – τοποθετείται στην προδυναστική Αίγυπτο, δηλαδή πριν το 3100 π.0. Στα ελληνιστικά και ρωμαϊκά χρόνια η λατρεία της εξαπλώθηκε σε όλη τη Μεσόγειο, καθώς ταυτίστηκε με ποικίλες θεότητες. Τα Μυστήριά της γοήτευσαν αυτοκράτορες, διανοούμενους (όπως ο Πλούταρχος, ο Απουλήιος και ο Ηρώδης ο Αττικός) αλλά και απλούς ανθρώπους.