This week we explore the qualities of Athena. Namely, her hero-favoring nature and her commanding and tempered presence. With Athena, we accomplish our goals with spear-pointed precision and our vulnerabilities are well armored and protected. Born from the head of Zeus, her nature is uncharacteristic of traditional feminine qualities. She knows and provides no womb yet favors the tempered and mindful. It only makes sense that she is also well known as the patron goddess of the craftsmen. Where artists might devote their talents to the beauty of Aphrodite, those that work meticulously to complete their works are in the service and recipience of Athena.
The Realm of Athena
Athena was once said by Zeus to be the only rightful heir to his throne. One could speculate quite a lot about this statement. On the one hand, we may consider her to be the evolved state of a more whole and balanced psyche. Her characteristics are often more associated after all with the masculine mind: war, shields, physical strength, and battle armor. However, on the other, she has the emotionally regulated virtues of the feminine. When one reconciles the inner world with the crafting and strategies in life, we are in the realm of Athena.
Athena’s Guiding Hand
I think our greatest exemplification of Athena is found in the Odyssey. Odysseus’ story is the story of those returning from war. His story is the story of all of us that had to harden and continue to long for a home and harmony within. In his case, Odysseus is on his way home across the Aegean. He longs for his wife, his land, and even his dog. But how does one make the journey from war and trauma to tender presence? We, like Odysseus, need Athena. She guides Odysseus, provides for him the endurance, the chance to grieve, the warnings against temptresses, and, above all, the wisdom to move through each phase without losing sight of his goals. Athena calms crowds when Odysseus speaks, interrupts indulgences. and battles the Poseidon of wild seas of emotion with temperance and meticulous sincerity.
A More Tempered Femininity
Where does Athena reside in our psyche today? Can we see the differences between the short bursts of motivation and the long spear craftsmanship of Athena? While connecting with the inner feminine can look like beauty, refreshment, presence, and transcendent peace (womb-like rest and surrender), we see in the mythology of Athena that we can also discover a more tempered femininity, A more goal-focused, noise calming and strengthening goddess who endures and executes with wisdom.
The Enduring Growth Onward
The greatest comfort in seeking Athena is her role with timing. Athena shows up as we need her and provides only what prompts us forward. This, too, as with much of the feminine psyche promotes an organic process. Which is to say the slow growth onward that doesn’t rush but endures. Athena is the commander of our softening. Where the warring Ares loses his rage-filled bloodthirsty grip on our destruction and our power grabs to the emotionally tempered wisdom of the feminine within.
Aphrodite is one of the better known Greek deities. As goddess of LOVE and BEAUTY, her charms, jealousy, and refreshment capture one of the most powerful and one of the most treacherous domains of our psychological lives. In keeping with our series on the inner relationships with mothering and fathering, we can extract some potent themes in the motherhood and character of Aphrodite. Firstly, let us take a look together at her origin story. While there are a few variations, each holds some great pearls. We see that Aphrodite is born out of dethroning masculinity (the castration of father) and the salty waters of the ocean. The convergence of male potency (our drive and our need for power) with the cleansing and solidifying salt (body) and water (emotion) bring us into her presence.
The Watery Body of Our Emotional Selves
Consider the role of salt as preservative. In alchemy, we learn that salt brings form. It dries into a substance that might otherwise go to waste. This paired with the watery body of our emotional selves make for an embodied sense of feeling itself. This captures well our need for Aphrodite in our culture. That this is the goddess of beauty tells us much about her role in our experience of meaning. With Aphrodite in mind, all emotional life has substance to it. Embodied emotions are refined gems and experienced as beauty. And, like Aphrodite herself, they must be honored.
The Relationship Between Beauty and Love
Interestingly enough, this combination of sea and earth creates the goddess of love. This love, in one sense, is personified by lust and allure. After all, who but the goddess of beauty could best represent sexual desire? But on a deeper level, it is worth noting the relationship between beauty in the archetypal sense with love itself. Aphrodite has unfortunately been reduced in a patriarchal society to a mere object of consumption. So, too, has the allure of womanly beauty. The nuance and brilliance of beauty for beauty’s sake is much more than the image we carry into our relationship to femininity both within and without.
The Refreshing Presence of Beauty
In Aphrodite, we see that she bathes and this produces newness. A better translation uses the word, “refreshment”. Interesting to think of love in terms of beauty rather than sacrifice or lust. If we experience love by the Greek sense of the word, we are in the refreshing presence of what is beautiful, what is felt, and what is embodied. This is deeper than lust. When something comes forth in therapy so deep and tender that it is a sacred kind of confession or poetic vulnerability, I think of Aphrodite.
The Embodied Poetry of Things
One poetic rendering from ancient Greece suggests that she is born from the sea foam. Another likens her to the pearl of great prize formed in the gestational realms of deep oceans. Indeed, her character resembles that which we find in the formations of pearls at the bottoms of our darkest submerged selves. The fateful entanglement between spirit and matter can describe well the struggle of individuation into wholeness. On the one hand, our drive or looking out beyond, attempting to change neuropathways and correct bad behaviors comes as motivation from the aching, painful, ambiguous darkness where clamshells grow their pearls. Should we turn our attention instead toward the embodied poetry of things, the presenting soulfulness of nature, relationships, and the rise and fall of our own breathing, we may enter the restorative realms of Aphrodite.
The Waters of Beauty and Dangers of Seduction
Of course, throughout her mythologies, we see what terrible nuisance and life-altering things come about when she intervenes. Aphrodite can be consuming, jealous, overbearing, manipulative, and even outright rejecting. To heed these warnings is part of our work this week. We strive to find the balance in her role psychologically. Our souls must foam upon the shores of the hard ground of responsibility in life. We will explore the bubbly waters of beauty and refreshment alongside the dangers of drowning in her seductive whiles.
For 5 weeks we have engaged with Greek mythological figures that help us to identify significant aspects of our inner life. First, we looked at the myths of the father and qualities of masculinity. Last week we started to explore the transitional or progressive encounters with the goddesses. Specifically, the mother and the further maturation into the feminine. We learned that one important distinction between the masculine and feminine within the human psyche is in the role of intimacy.
On the one hand, we look to the masculine for the umph to penetrate into, take actions against, and influence. Our masculinity is the will engaged going after, dictating, strategizing, and going places. Masculinity is generally the moving parts where will is pressing through opposition. This is the aspect of our clients that takes actions, executes treatment plans, rallies, and pushes oneself and others to do differently, see clearly, and drive into action.
On the other, we have begun to explore the feminine personified in the goddesses. Rather than penetration, these deities help us to understand the nearness to presenting things, the role of mother and loving awareness, the significance of fulfillment, intimacy, and reception. Instead of what we penetrate and divide, the feminine draws us and orients one’s engagement with curiosity, restful surrender, body wisdom, and the present moment.
The Central Fire of the Home
This week, we will be spending time at the warm fire of Hestia. An odd and important figure of the Greek pantheon, Hestia is never found in sculptures of ancient Greece. She never conquers anyone or anything and always remains a virgin. Her symbols are the hearth or central fire of the home and the circle. When altars or temples were constructed to Hestia, there were no statues of her constructed. The rituals of blessing that accompany the dedication of temples were considered unnecessary. What makes her so different and why does she represent an important aspect of our own soul life?
When Saturn consumed Hestia, along with all her brothers and sisters, he swallowed her first. Consequently, when Saturn purges the gods, she, too, was the last. I believe we can find great meaning in this for the psychological process of healing. To put it in other terms, that which we stuff or have yet to digest but come out, often violently, if necessary, and the Hestian experience is likely behind it!
The Relationship to the Present
There is a reason Hestia has little symbolism and comes in the aftermath of our purging souls. She herself is the relationship to the present. The hearth is the REASON and the EXPERIENTIAL factor itself. Without the fire, there was no gathering, no rituals, no sacrifices to other gods, no identifying ritual at hand. Fires gather, fires burn up. and carry experiences toward the heavens.
Hestia has no hidden edges, therefore she is the symbol of the circle. She is inclusion. Hestia is the conscious (or often unconscious) present. The nourishment of the Hestia is her remembrance. Why are we in this group? What does the warm fire feel like during this phone call? What circle or ritual am I in on my drive home? During this conflict? And so on. Hestia is the sensate remembrance.
We encounter her again when she makes clear to Zeus that all worship of the gods must begin with offerings to her. It is as if to say, “if we are not conscious of the experience – open to connecting with the fires warmth and the meaning of the intention – then we have left the experience of the gods behind. This is a week where we will be emphasizing mindfulness and ritual. All things must enter the circle of Hestia in order to be cooked, gathered, connected with, and ultimately offered to the heavens.
One of the greatest disparities of our modern day is the supremely undifferentiated nature of feminine archetypes. By feminine, I, of course, do not refer here to gender. So many depth psychologists are guilty of funneling femininity into the category of women and masculinity into that of men. Instead, we address the feminine characteristics within the psyche as a whole that each individuation would then confront relationship to presenting parts. We are a patriarchal society and have been for thousands of years. This brings more familiarity to the masculine aspects of psyche. We mean both in their strengths and their shadows. We will look to the goddesses of Greek mythology to help further identify our relationships with femininity. Doing so, we may begin to deepen into the distinct characteristics of feminine consciousness.
A Surrender to the Forces at Hand
As psychotherapists of a patriarchal age, often our emphasis is upon the directive, reductive, and corrective experiences of the mind. We analyze, identify, and prescribe our way through architecture and landscapes of the psychological mythos. Often enough, I encounter another maybe even counterintuitive drive in clients. That is, the regressive desire to return to the undifferentiated. We may see hyper-aggressive conquest as the unhealthy fathering standard at its worst. If so, then undifferentiated surrender to the forces at hand is the drive into mother as escape.
A Convenient Catch-All
Since the feminine suffers tremendous unconsciousness in our culture today, one can speculate how mother is a convenient catch-all for the feminine instincts. Whether male or female, we might say that the call to feel, to hold presence, to confront with receptivity the aggressive forces of initiation are all experiences of the feminine that are awash to the mother complex-ridden individual. We could move through these experiences with distinction. However, we may instead seek undifferentiated womb-like surrender. This points to the “momism” of the psyche.
The “Momism” of the Psyche
Rather than to think, to embrace, to transform, instead mothering may replace maturing to the point in which avoidance results. Simply put, mother is not the feminine. Conversely, the feminine is not the mother. To be without relationship, held, suspended is but one of the characteristics of the maturing feminine. The attitude towards ones presenting problems may be one of being overwhelmed, panicked, even avoidant. If so, we no doubt are up against this “momism” of the psyche.
The Womb-Like Disappearance of Consciousness
This week, we will be exploring the role of the mother both as complex and archetype. This will begin our teasing out of the distinctive goddesses. Our goal here is to bring understanding to the phenomenon. It relates to both psychotherapy and our clients while in treatment. What if the regressive drive toward womb – whether through drugs and alcohol, avoidant behaviors, and chaos – were in fact an instinct to enter the feminine principles? What if the unconsciousness of the feminine psyche is what informs this sleighing of the instincts into the womb-like disappearance of consciousness? How do we hide? How do we avoid? What fantasies do escapism bring? Could there be some baby in the bathwater of these instincts? Let’s explore together this week!