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.
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!
In my years as a clinical therapist and program director, I have encountered many Poseidon problems. Clients express that they feel over-possessed by the unpredictable waters within them. They feel overcome by the surfacing and powerful waves of buried emotions. Why is my anger not going away? Or why do I sabotage my relationships? And why don’t I feel like I am ever enough? When questions like these arise, we can look to the archetypal figure of Poseidon for further understanding.
The Extreme Implications of Vengeance and Emotional Intensities
More than any other Greek deity, Poseidon shows us the extreme implications of vengeance and emotional intensities. On the one hand, we see a figure who carries our ships across the seas to our destinations. This is to suggest that our emotions are the ebbing, flowing waters that carry our dreams and goals. However, on the other, sometimes our emotions get the best of us. We can possess ourselves for years or even lifetimes with their unsolidified reactivity. A Poseidon problem resembles his temperamental kingship.
The Deep and Wide Range of Our Emotional Waters
Poseidon, like the sea itself, ever moves in interaction with the other elements. Waters can stir and lift, powerful, and unpredictable. As ruler of the seas, Poseidon commands the deep and wide range of our emotional waters. A Poseidon man or Poseidon father can be relentlessly powerful in stormy emotions. At other times he is tranquil, softening the edges of ridged and hard surfaces, rocking gently those that he loves in his massive embrace.
A Tremendous Amount of Passion
For example, when our efforts are reliant upon the Poseidon figure, we allow emotions to rule motivations. Of course, this can be quite meaningful. A Poseidon father likely shows great empathy for his children. There is a tremendous amount of passion and squishy moments to be had by watery feelings. But when king is ruled by the seas of his emotions, his wrath and many unsustainable goals are sentenced to the bottoms of the ocean, only to hurl themselves upon the shores soaking the dry land we stand upon.
A Poseidon character is the kingly character of the reactive psyche. He is not the rightful ruler of our inner world because he lacks the vantage point of Olympus. Poseidon loses and is humiliated in many instances before Zeus and the other gods. His power cannot win out for the throne. At least, not if we want healthy outcomes for our psychological and spiritual health.
Working with Awareness of the Seas
We can look to his nature as a kind of barometer of our own masculine relationship with emotion itself. If, for example, we are out of touch with the Poseidon role – that is, we do not rule over emotions with some masculine energy – we may be subject then to the natural occurrences of water damage. Should the waters go untamed or unaddressed, perhaps the solid ground in our lives will be washed away. Should we fail to recognize the Poseidon energy when it swells and thrashes against our boats and shores, we are then destined to play out his mythology in our lifetime.
The trick is to see his role and work with awareness of the seas. For to be the sea is to suffer greatly. This week we ask simply: Where can we see Poseidon in our lives? Furthermore, do we need more emotional attendance? Finally, do we need to release the attempts to rule our psyches from an emotional ocean?
As we begin our work with Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, it is important to also differentiate the realms in which they oversee. We must better understand the role of different aspects of masculinity through these archetypal figures. To do this, we have to also take the time to understand the aspects or places psychologically suited for each. Without a conscious relationship with the realms of psychological life, we may be swimming in the undifferentiated mass confusion of an unconscious psyche. Should we take the time to raise to candlelight the realms and rulers personified in the Greek myths, we may observe in intimate detail the curvatures of the masculine form.
The Wise and Strong Mothering Rhea
After Zeus and Rhea trick Saturn and the gods have returned, Zeus assumes the rightful position as king over his many siblings. For Zeus, conquering the father and rescuing the siblings entitles him to the highest position among them. Through strength and power on the one hand, Zeus claimed his throne. However, we also have to consider the wise and strong mothering of Rhea. Rhea was the protector of Zeus in infancy. She guarded his innocence day and night until the day he confronted Saturn. This is an important and very common phenomenon in the life of strong Zeusian men. When mother was protective, men will often exude an unparalleled and unwavering conviction in word and action. We might say that Zeus was stubborn, but also most worthy. He is less consumed by father and more secure in the womb-like preservation provided by mother.
The Rightful Ruler of Our Purest Virtues
I want to consider the significance of preserved and protected innocence and the rightful overseer of our purest, highest, and most heavenly virtues. Zeus is rightly the ruler here. He possesses both a secure childlikeness as well as the power and strength to lead from it. Such amplifications beckon us to ask good questions of our own Olympian realms and rulers. Who holds the reigns of our Olympian worlds? Do we place the highest values in the hands of wounded and fearful fathers? Like Saturn, do we swallow life down and remove ourselves? Or do we entrust these values to the strength of Zeus? Of course, we come in and out of metaphor and literalism here. Zeus is figurative – a clay formation of an important aspiration within and without. As fathers, again both within and without, how do we exemplify or woefully fall short of Zeus?
The Importance of an Individuation Process
It’s important to point out what happens when the role of Zeus is already taken. This may from father, grandfather, mother, teacher, or even therapist. If Zeus belongs to others we may never rightfully oversee the psychological life within us. To put it another way, if Zeus is not, in part, a way of thinking for ourselves because his energy is projected elsewhere, how can we begin to gain a vantage point above and engage in healthy, virtuous motives within our own lives? One must consider the importance of an individuation process where the overbearing power of others, addictions, and codependencies is relinquished to the Zeus within. In short, too much Zeus and we have too little humanity. Too little Zeus and we have codependent and powerless lives.
Magical consciousness has to accommodate shadows or it has immediately made its potency finite. Some vital energy is drained from us when we disconnect from moon-like rhythms of visibility. Certain thoughts are out like boomerangs and are not to accomplish themselves in speech—rather to hurtle back into the nourishing dark of our own quiet. We get damaged by too much daylight – Martin Shaw
The Inner Connection with Ideas and Imagination
In light of the short week at Barn Life, we will take a brief detour from the Greek gods. Instead. we are going to emphasize the psychological implication. Our quote above comes from a favorite author of mine: Martin Shaw. His work exemplifies deep attendance to myth and fairytale from a place of soul. Through his deep reading and contemplation, Shaw manages to bring moisture to psychology. Quoted here, in Snowy Tower, Shaw reflects on the significance of the inner connection with ideas and imagination. He suggests that we cannot simply reduce our thoughts, patterns, behaviors, and struggles to definition and solution. Rather, until we hold the inner process meditatively with a religious attitude of loving parenthood, our life is without substance. To put it another way, magical privacy is a quiet soil we need to grow seeds in.
The Heart of Our Disorders
This beckons us to consider the importance of wonder, silence, and the unfolding of things on the psyche’s terms and not our own. Is it the psyche that lives in me? Or is it me that lives in the psyche? While treatment plans and coping strategies serve to resolve, much of the inner transformation comes from the deep intimacy with the unfolding. From this perspective, we may say that intimacy is always at the heart of our disorders. One cannot simply apply their way to meaning and soul. Rather, one must learn to attend often to the dark fairytales and mysteries of the inner world. Through sensation, imagination, and a healthy, balanced archetypal fathering and mothering, we may live into our answers.
A Contemplative and Curious Position
Our crisis is one of intimacy, one of creation, one of transition. Having abandoned, due to survival and prescription, the necessity of the cosmic bath – the psychization of instinct and sensation of stirring potentials – we more often than not fail to initiate into an inner center of gravity. Instead one repeats the cycle of confrontation and repression. My encouragement this week is that we take a contemplative and curious position alongside our own clients recognizing the unfolding fairytales and mysteries as a greatly unconscious and meaningful work. Should we trust that the psyche wants to heal, we may provide the sacred and open space for initiations into self-resilience, imagination, and reconciliation.