(Essay) Fighting Fascists in the Streets of Athens by Harita Meenee

Gravestone of Apollonia

Gravestone of Apollonia

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!

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Harita Meenee

HaritaRead all posts by Harita Meenee.

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

(Essay) Eating the Flesh of the Goddess: Demeter and the “Bread of Life” By Harita Meenee

Demeter holding ears of wheat above an altar. 470-450 BCE. Capua, Italy. Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, 12. Photo by Harita Meenee

Demeter holding ears of wheat above an altar. 470-450 BCE. Capua, Italy. Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, 12. Photo by Harita Meenee

“I am the bread of life.” This phrase is put in the mouth of Jesus in the Gospel According to John. [1] 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.[2]

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.”

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(Essay 2) The Snake Goddess Reborn by Harita Meenee

Hygieia (or Hygeia), the Goddess of Health. Bronze Roman statuette, 100-150 CE. Getty Villa. Photo by the author.

Hygieia (or Hygeia), the Goddess of Health. Bronze Roman statuette, 100-150 CE. Getty Villa. Photo by the author.

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.

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(Essay 1) The Snake Goddess Reborn by Harita Meenee

The Varvakeion Athena Parthenos, 3d c. CE. National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece. Photo by the author.

The Varvakeion Athena Parthenos, 3d c. CE. National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece. Photo by the author.

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.

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(Essay) Dionysus, the Bearded Goddess, and the Pride Festival by Harita Meenee

HM hermaphroditus_statue-small

Hermaphroditus, from Pergamum, Asia Minor, 3rd c. BCE, Istanbul Archaeological Museums. Photo by Sandstein, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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.

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(Easter Essay 2) The Secret of the Sacred Garden: The Garden of Eden and the Orchard of the Virgin by Harita Meenee

Ishtar/Inanna, winged and wearing a horned cap or tiara of divinity. Detail of an ancient Mesopotamian vase from Larsa, early 2nd millennium BC. © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5

Ishtar/Inanna, winged and wearing a horned cap or tiara of divinity. Detail of an ancient Mesopotamian vase from Larsa, early 2nd millennium BC. © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5

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.”[1]

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(Easter Essay 1) The Secret of the Sacred Garden: From Aphrodite’s Vulva to the Resurrection by Harita Meenee

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.[1] When Mary Magdalene reached his tomb, she found it empty, to her great sorrow:

Noli me tangere, fresco by Fra Angelico (1395–1455). Mary Magdalene meets the resurrected Jesus in the garden. He is holding a hoe, showing his symbolic status as a gardener.

Noli me tangere, fresco by Fra Angelico (1395–1455). Mary Magdalene meets the resurrected Jesus in the garden. He is holding a hoe, showing his symbolic status as a gardener.

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).[2]

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(Greek Language Essay) Η θεϊκή Μητέρα και το ιερό Παιδί: Το εσωτερικό νόημα των Χριστουγέννων, της Χαρίτας Μήνη

Μια γυναικεία μορφή κρατάει τρυφερά στην αγκαλιά της ένα βρέφος, προσφέροντάς του το στήθος της. Μια εικόνα τόσο οικεία και τόσο μαγική

Η Άρτεμις Κουροτρόφος με μικρό κορίτσι στην αγκαλιά. Δεύτερο μισό του 5ου αιώνα π.0. Μουσείο Βραυρώνας. Φωτογραφία της συγγραφέως.

Η Άρτεμις Κουροτρόφος με μικρό κορίτσι στην αγκαλιά. Δεύτερο μισό του 5ου αιώνα π.0. Μουσείο Βραυρώνας. Φωτογραφία της συγγραφέως.

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

H νεολιθική κουροτρόφος από το Σέσκλο της Θεσσαλίας. Εθνικό Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο. Φωτογραφία της συγγραφέως.

H νεολιθική κουροτρόφος από το Σέσκλο της Θεσσαλίας. Εθνικό Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο. Φωτογραφία της συγγραφέως.

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.[1] 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».[2]

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.

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(Essay) The Divine Mother and the Holy Child: The Inner Meaning of Christmas by Harita Meenee

Artemis Courotrophos holding a little girl. Second half of 5th c. BCE. Brauron Museum. Photo by the author.

Artemis Courotrophos holding a little girl. Second half of 5th c. BCE. Brauron Museum. Photo by the author.

A female figure tenderly holding a baby in her arms, offering her breast: an image so familiar and yet so magical at the same time! It recalls our own infancy as it carries a subconscious nostalgia of the sweet moments that we lived in Mother’s embrace. This is a truly universal experience recurring through countless millennia of our species’ existence on the planet.

Mother and Child, two intertwined figures depicted countless times in stone and clay or on the colored surfaces of temples and tombs. Over the centuries they have been vested with a number of meanings and symbolisms; they even acquired a divine quality as they never ceased to speak to the human soul. For those of us raised within Christianity, the sweet face of the Virgin Mary holding little Jesus spontaneously comes to mind. Yet, if we look deeper in time, we’ll see a variety of pre-Christian “Madonna and Child” images.

The Courotrophos and the Nursing Isis

One of these images comes from the Neolithic settlement of Sesklo, in Thessaly, in central Greece. It is a clay figurine of a woman seated on a stool, holding a baby in her arms. Archaeologists date this fascinating find to 4800-4500 BCE. Equally ancient, perhaps even older, are certain figurines from Mesopotamia. One of these portrays a woman with a reptilian face, an unmistakable sign that it was intended to convey multiple meanings [1].  A similar artifact unearthed in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus has a bird’s face. The combination of human andanimal features in art indicates the mythic dimension of these beings – these are not human women, but most probably goddesses with their divine offspring.

The Neolithic courotrophos from Sesklo, Thessaly, central Greece. National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece. Photo by the author.

The Neolithic courotrophos from Sesklo, Thessaly, central Greece. National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece. Photo by the author.

The goddess holding or nursing an infant was given the epithet courotrophos in ancient Greek. The word derives from the verb trepho, “nourish” or “raise”, and the noun, couros, “boy,” or coure (alternately spelled core or kore), “girl” or “maiden.” This title was attributed to a variety of goddesses; one of them was Artemis, in her capacity as protectress of children; another one was Eileithyia, the patron of childbirth. One can hardly consider it a coincidence that the same title was also given to the Virgin Mary. A famous Byzantine hymn in her honor, known as the Akathist, which is still in use by the Greek Orthodox Church, addresses her as follows: “Hail, fair courotrophos of virgins” [2].

However, the most widespread courotrophos image before Mary came along was that of Isis, who was often shown holding or breastfeeding the young Horus.

Isis with the young Horus. Copper figurine. National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece. Photo by the author.

Isis with the young Horus. Copper figurine. National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece. Photo by the author.

She is the archetypal Mother, radiating affection, compassion, and kindness. Her origin is lost in the depths of time—she dates from predynastic Egypt (known as Kemet in ancient times), i.e., prior to 3100 BCE. In Hellenistic and Roman times, the worship of Isis spread around the Mediterranean as she was identified with a host of other goddesses. Her Mysteries magnetized emperors, intellectuals, such as Plutarch, Apuleius, and Herodes Atticus, as well as ordinary people.

It has become a common secret that the iconography of the Madonna and Child is based on the depiction of Isis and Son. Yet their similarities don’t end there. For example, the Egyptian Mother was called “Queen of Heaven,” a title which was later attributed to the Virgin by the Roman Catholic Church. Interestingly, Mary also found herself in Egypt, along with little Jesus, in order to avoid the “massacre of the innocents,” according to the Gospel of Matthew (2.13-23). So, what if the historicity of these events is disputed by experts? Every religion is a blend of history and myth; thus, biblical narratives must be examined not only from a literal but also from a symbolic perspective.

Let us not forget that the Virgin has sometimes been honored as a goddess, a phenomenon that some have called “Mariolatry.” One of the early groups that venerated her as Divine Mother was called “the Collyridians” by Epiphanius (315-403 CE), a Christian bishop who wrote against various “heresies” of his time in his work Panarion or Medicine Box (78-79). The collyris, from which the sect got its name, was the sacred bread they offered to the Mother of God. It is worth noting that this cult appeared in Arabia during the 4th century CE and was particularly popular with women—as a matter of fact, it even included female priests. Maybe Arabia sounds like a faraway place to the Western reader, yet according to Epiphanius, the Collyridians’ teachings originated from Thrace, an area to the north of Greece, where powerful goddesses were once worshipped.

Naturally, the kind bishop makes sure to inform us that the Collyridians’ ideas are nothing but “womanish madness.” In his words, “the female sex is easily mistaken, fallible and poor in intelligence. It is apparent that through women the devil has vomited this forth” [3]. However, although the Church has used all fair and unfair means to eliminate such forms of Mariolatry, it hasn’t quite achieved its purpose.

The figure of the Virgin, although marginalized in Protestantism, has left an indelible mark on both the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic faiths. The endless miracles attributed to her, the countless churches named in her honor, and the innumerable images of her all bear witness to that. The crowds of pilgrims that flock to her famous church on the Greek island of Tinos, as well as those that journey to Notre Dame in Paris or to any other place of her worship don’t allow room for much doubt. Incidentally, it is worth asking how many of these sacred Christian sites were once dedicated to goddesses in ancient times.

 The Goddess Demeter and the “All Holy” Priestesses

By tracing the figure of the Mother and the Divine Child through the centuries, we can see Christmas taking on a different, archetypal dimension. This holiday can turn into an initiation into the mysteries of the human mind, which outwardly projects its timeless symbols. If we accept the theories of C. G. Jung, the father of archetypal psychology, religion and myth are a reflection of our internal reality: “Myths … have a vital meaning. Not merely do they represent, they are the psychic life of the primitive tribe… A tribe’s mythology is its living religion… But religion is a vital link with psychic processes independent of and beyond consciousness, in the dark hinterland of the psyche” [4].

It is no coincidence that the celebration of Christmas was placed immediately after the Winter Solstice. As Carl Kerényi puts it, “the rising sun and the new-born child are just as much an allegory of the Primordial Child as the Primordial Child is an allegory of the rising sun and of all the new born children in the world” [5]. At the same time, the archetypal Child embodies the hope of something new coming, whether it is new life or the unseen potential gestating inside of us. In ancient Greek tradition, the Child took the forms of Dionysus, Hermes, Heracles, and even Eros.

If the Child symbolizes the quality of the new, the Mother may embody the power to bring this to light, whether it is a new being or an innovative creation. Thus, she can be simultaneously Mother Nature, who gives birth to everything, as well as the creative ability that dwells within us. Such symbolic figures possess multiple meanings as their roots reach deeply into the human soul.

As a result, it can hardly be accidental that the most important mystery cult of ancient Greece was focused on the primal Mother-Offspring dyad. Yet, in this case, the offspring was not a son but a daughter, known as Core or Persephone. According to Kerényi, “the figure of the child plays a part in mythology equal to that of the marriageable girl, or Kore, and mother” [6]. The most widely worshipped Mother of Greek religion is none other than Demeter, the protectress of agriculture, another aspect of age-old Gaia.

A women’s festival in honor of Demeter, called the Haloa (from the word halos: threshing floor), was celebrated close to the date of Christmas in Eleusis and other places. It took place on the 26 of the lunar month Poseideon, which approximately corresponds to December. A rich feast was organized to honor the goddess that nourishes people with her crops. Dionysus was worshipped too along with Demeter; in some myths he is portrayed as the son of the Core.

In the ancient mind, women’s fertility was inextricably tied to that of the Earth. During the Haloa, instead of celebrating the birth of a holy child by the Divine Mother, people honored her power to bear fruit. To stimulate this power they used sympathetic magic. The banquet also included certain sweets, much as in modern Greece where we make special Christmas candies called kourabiedes and melomakarona. However, there is an important difference: it is said that the Haloa sweets had the shape of female and male genitals. It is believed that similar objects were planted into the soil, symbolically representing a Sacred Marriage [7].

Occasionally, the Virgin Mary and Demeter come close to each other. Greeks and the Eastern Orthodox Church commonly call Mary Panaghia (pronounced pah-nah-YEE-ah), from the word pan, “all,” and aghia, which means “holy” or “female saint.” Interestingly, some scholars believe that the priestesses of Demeter in her most sacred sanctuary at Eleusis had the same or a very similar title (plural panagheis or panaghiai). According to the famous Byzantine dictionary of Hesychius of Alexandria, panaghia is “a priestess who does not have intercourse with a man” [8].

There are other intriguing similarities between the Mother of God and Demeter. The bread was considered the goddess’ gift to humankind, as she was the giver of the wheat and other grains. Interestingly, the bread is also associated with the Virgin. No, I am not referring here to the heretical Collyridian women of the 4th century, but to Orthodox Christians of the Byzantine Empire, both monks and emperors. The bread they offered to Jesus’ mother was called panaghia while the special tray on which it was placed was called panaghiarion. Similar rituals are still part of contemporary Orthodox liturgies.

Here is another intriguing piece of information: the modern inhabitants of Eleusis, who were Arvanites (Albanian-speaking Greeks), venerated the goddess of agriculture even during the early part of the 20th century, sometimes identifying her with Mary. In his book, Eleusis in Modern Times (1993), Vangelis Liapis says the following about these people: “They believed in Jesus Christ and in Saint George the rider, liberator of the powerless, but they also believed in the indestructible force of the Earth, who gave life to all living beings. Women blended Panaghia with the goddess Demeter. It had become a custom to call her ‘Aghia (Saint) Dimitra’” [9]. Today, at the site of the Eleusinian Sanctuary there is a small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

 The “Holy Night” of Initiation

Myths and religions inevitably include a variety of meanings and can be seen from diverse perspectives. So, there will always be those who will insist on seeing Christmas literally, as if it is about the birth of a real baby from a human mother. Yet there is another, more symbolic interpretation: the birth of the Divine Child in the dark and cold of the winter recalls initiatory experiences. Initiation is often described as the death of the old self and the birth of the new.

The “holy night” of Christmas brings to mind the “great night” of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Moreover, both Demeter and Isis were also goddesses of mystery cults. So, the archetypal Mother becomes an Initiatrix, guiding us down the path of rebirth with her wisdom. Perhaps it is no coincidence that, in some of the icons with young Jesus seated on Mary’s lap, she is called in Greek Odigitria, which can be translated as “Guide.”

Consequently, in psychological terms, Christmas reflects the birth of all those elements that have been gestating within us—the qualities that want to come to light through the darkness of the unconscious. The Mother represents the inner power that gives us rebirth; she is the life-giving source of creation. Perhaps the glowing infant smiling sweetly from the warmth of the manger is none other than ourselves. When theologians and priests say that “Christ is in us,” is it possible that what they really mean is just that?

NOTES

[1] This terracotta figurine comes from Ur and dates from 5500-4000 BCE. For an image see “Dea serpente,” “Raffigurazioni femminili nell’Antichità: NEOLITICO in Siria ed Iraq,” digilander.libero.it/Righel40/VEP/NEO/SYR/SYR.htm

[2] For the full text of the hymn, see “The Akathistos Hymn,” www.legionofmarytidewater.com/prayers/stand.htm. The Greek word khaire is often translated as “rejoice,” but I consider “hail” a more accurate translation since the verb khairo (rejoice) in the second person (khaire) was used as a common greeting.

[3] Epiphanius, Panarion (Medicine Box) 79, translated by Carolyn Osiek in Women’s Religions in the Greco-Roman World: A Sourcebook, ed. Ross Shepard Kraemer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[4] C.G. Jung, “The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” in C.G. Jung and C. Kerényi, The Myth of the Divine Child and the Mysteries of Eleusis (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1949; repr., New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993),  73. Citations are to the Princeton edition.

[5] Carl Kerényi, “The Primordial Child in Primordial Times,” The Myth of the Divine Child, 45.

[6] Ibid., 25.

[7] Τhe primary sources on the Haloa are Demosthenes 1385.2, Filochoros 161, and Lucian, Dialogues of the Courtesans 7.3. For the Haloa and the role of women in Eleusinian cults see also Joan Breton Connelly, Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 64-69.

[8] For the virgin priestesses of Eleusis see Marguerite Rigoglioso, Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity (repr. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 171. Jennifer Reif believes that Demeter probably also had the title panaghia. See Reif, Mysteries of Demeter (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1999), 42.

[9] Cited in Anastasios D. Stamos, “The Goddess Demeter in Modern Times,” Ninth Symposium of Attic History and Folklore, 23 June 2003, School Library, http://3gym-kerats.att.sch.gr/library/spip.php?article10.

Read Mago contributor Harita Meenee.

(Essay) Sophia, the Sacred Feminine Wisdom by Harita Meenee

It is certainly hard to believe that a feminine divine figure might be praised in the Bible. God is consistently presented as a “He,” a masculine deity, and a celibate one, save for metaphors which portray him as the Bridegroom of Israel. Yet a close reading of the Book of Proverbs reveals another sacred being intimately connected to him:   

When God set the heavens in place, I was present,
When God drew a ring on the surface of the deep,
When God fixed the clouds above,
When God fixed fast the wells of the deep,
when God assigned the sea its limits
and the waters will not invade the land,
when God established the foundations of the earth,
I was by God’s side, a master craftswoman,
delighting God day after day,
ever at play by God’s side,
at play everywhere in God’s domain,
delighting to be with the children of humanity.[1]

Who could possibly be this person who was there in the beginning of all Creation? Who is this playful being who delights God and rejoices in the presence of human beings? In the book of Proverbs she is presented as a female figure standing on high places, at the gates of the city, shouting:

I, Wisdom, dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of devices. (…)
Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine.
By me kings reign, and princes decree justice.
By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.
I love them that love me, and those that seek me earnestly shall find me.
Riches and honor are with me, enduring riches and righteousness.
My fruit is better than fine gold; and my produce than choice silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice.[2]

This powerful person, who combines so many different attributes, seems truly impressive. Her name in Hebrew is Hochmah, a feminine word meaning “wisdom.” In Greek it is rendered as Sophia (a common name for women in Greece nowadays). Still, it is hard to grasp who this mysterious, primordial being really is.

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NOVGOROD Sophia. Banner byLydia Ruyle, based on an 11th c. icon in the Kremlin at Novgorod,Russia. Reproduced here by permission of the artist.

One might be tempted to say that she is not a feminine figure at all, but a simple metaphor, a personification for God’s wisdom. Yet she appears again and again in the Bible and beyond. She is praised in the Wisdom of Sirach and, above all, in the Wisdom of Solomon. These two books, written by Hebrews, are considered apocryphal in the rabbinic tradition, but are canonical in the Greek Orthodox Church.

The Wisdom of Solomon is attributed to Solomon, the king of Israel who was renowned for his good judgment. In reality, this book was written in Alexandria of Egypt, the city founded by the Macedonian King Alexander, which became the center of Greek civilization in Hellenistic times. The Jewish community there had obviously received the influence of the Hellenic culture, hence the author wrote this book in Greek. Even though he strongly criticizes “idolatry,” scholars have detected traces of Plato’s philosophy in some of his ideas.

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Meet Mago Contributor, Harita Meenee

HaritaA 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.

Harita has presented cultural TV programs, given a series of interviews and workshops, and has lectured at universities in Greece and the USA. Numerous articles and essays of hers have been published. She is also the author of five books:

– Neo-Paganism: The Rebirth of the Ancient Religion

– On the Path of Aphrodite

– The Women’s Olympics and the Great Goddess

– The Sacred Feminine and Mary Magdalene

– Neopaganismo (in Spanish translation)

Blog: http://hmeenee.wordpress.com/

Website: www.hmeenee.com

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/H.Meenee

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Published posts from the recent:

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(Essay) Women, Power, and Religion in Ancient Athens by Harita Meenee

If there ever was an intimate connection between state and religion, we can see it quite clearly in ancient Athens. The very name of the city is attributed to a goddess—Athena, its protectress and guardian. There are different versions of how this came to be as she competed against Poseidon, the angry god of the sea and earthquakes. A fascinating story about this fight comes surprisingly from a Christian writer, St. Augustine:

At the time of Kekrops [legendary king of Athens] an olive tree suddenly sprung up on the hill of the Akropolis and a spring gushed out near that spot. Kekrops asked the oracle for advice and received the response that the spring suggested Poseidon, while the olive tree pointed to Athena. Kekrops called an assembly of all the citizens, male and female, to vote on the question; for at that time and in that place the custom was that women as well as men should take part in discussions about the affairs of state. When the matter was put before the people, the men voted for Neptune [Poseidon], the women for Minerva [Athena]; as it happened, the women outnumbered the men by one; thus, the victory was given to Minerva.

Then Neptune was outraged and devastated the territory of Athens flooding it with sea-water (…). To appease his anger (…) the women suffered a threefold punishment: they were never to have the vote again; their children were never to take their mother’s name; and no one was ever to call them “Athenian women.”[1]

This amazing myth reveals a telling connection between religion and politics. Also, it states quite bluntly that there was a time when women had significant rights: they participated in the decision-making in a democratic way, they had the legal status of Athenian citizens, while the naming of children was likely to be matrilineal. The essential truth of this legend is confirmed by archeological and anthropological evidence, showing that egalitarian societies did exist in prehistoric times, while in some parts of the world they survived even until recent years.[2]

Furthermore, the matrilineal naming of children is attested among several ancient peoples, such as the Lykians of southwestern Anatolia, the Egyptians and the Etruscans. It is also evident in the Hellenic colony Lokri Epizephyrii in Southern Italy, as well as in the area of Western Lokris in Greece.[3] Even in modern Greece, where, as a rule, children take their fathers’ surnames, a number of surnames clearly originate in female names.

The tale preserved by St. Augustine also demonstrates that Athena was worshipped mainly by women—it was their vote who made her patron (or rather matron!) of the city. Yet at the same time this story shows how religion was used to justify women’s oppression: their subordination was presented as a kind of punishment inflicted through the wrath of a male deity, as plainly stated by St. Augustine. Far-fetched as this may sound, it is also reminiscent of another story used to marginalize the female sex in more recent times: the punishment of Eve, who is portrayed as angering God within both Judaism and Christianity…

Women were indeed deprived of many rights in class-divided, patriarchal Athens; yet the power of the goddess never failed. Athena remained strong and independent—unlike other goddesses, she was never defeated, raped or forced into marriage. The best-known monument of ancient Greece, a testimony to the glamour and wealth of classical Athens, is none other than her temple, the Parthenon. The word derives from Athena’s title Parthenos, “Virgin,” a term originally denoting a woman’s unmarried status rather than her physical virginity.[4] The goddess’s huge statue, made of gold and ivory, was the work of Pheidias, one of the most famous sculptors of antiquity.[5]

Many were her titles and attributes in ancient Athens: Polias, “Goddess of the City,” Promakhos, “Defender,” Boulaia, “Of the City Council,” Ergane, “Industrious” etc.[6] Splendid festivals, like the Panathenaia, were organized by the state in her honor. Women always retained a special place in her rituals, as her priestesses and worshippers. They took part in formal processions, wove herpeplos (mantle), carried her sacred objects and ceremonially washed her wooden statue. They also tended the fertility of the earth in festivals like the Skira and the Arrephoria, since women always maintained a mystical connection to the land and the magical energy of the goddess.[7]

Although, according to myth, they suffered the loss of many rights because of their devotion to her, they knew better than to hold that against her. Besides, oppression is usually rooted in political, social and economic conditions rather than in religious beliefs used to justify it. The wealth and power of ancient Athens was largely based on the exploitation of women and slaves—female as well as male ones.[8] Aristophanes, the greatest comedy writer of antiquity, pointed in his own way at women as the possible solution to the problems of social injustice and war.[9] It seems that memories of a more egalitarian and peaceful world, in which the female gender played a major role, were still alive in his time. Intertwined with these memories was old, wise Athena.[10] For the women of the city she was a mighty goddess of peace and freedom, dear to their hearts, rejoicing in their celebrations, or so grandpa Aristophanes tells us. Thus, the female chorus in hisThesmophoriazousai makes a touching invocation to her:

Athena Pallas, the dance-loving goddess,
it is custom to call to our dance,
the virgin, unmarried maiden,
holding our city,
she alone having evident power,
she, the keeper of its keys.
Appear, you who properly despises tyrants.

The womenfolk are calling you;
come to us bringing Peace,
who loves festivities.[11]

Copyright by Harita Meenee

(This was originally published here: http://hmeenee.com/1794/8501.html)