Sunday, February 22, 2015

Athena, Goddess of Civilization

Athena, the Hellenic Goddess of Athens, for whom the city was named (or perhaps who assumed the name of the city, as this can be a chicken and egg kind of argument) was worshipped throughout Greece in many aspects, bearing many titles both literary and cultic, who is best known to us today as the Goddess of wisdom is one of the deities whose power and influence survived into the Christian mythos as Sophia, who is seen as the personification of the divine wisdom of the holy spirit.

It is important to remember that Christianity, the religion as opposed to the cult, rose out of a Hellenized world. That throughout the Roman Empire, including Judaea, the Hellenic culture, language, and religion left a strong imprint on every religion, cult, and culture that existed within its borders.

Even before the advent of the Jesus Cult, which could well have been a cult that originated with the Adonis Cults of the region, there were philosophers, writers, and artists who often saw Zeus, or some other manifestation of the Sky God, such as Yahweh, as the supreme deity. Referred to sometimes as a prime mover, as Phanes, or as Eros, this theological formulation often had, like the Hindu Brahmin, an ability to manifest in many forms. Forms that were often seen as individual Gods, angelic beings, or even daemonic entities (think nature spirits, not evil ugly creatures from hell) and one of these was a manifestation of divine wisdom.

But unlike in a monotheistic system, in which one must bend over backward to excuse the existence or manifestation of a divine power as a form of a singular "God", sometimes rewriting their own theology to do it (Think of how the Church had to massage the myth of Jesus' birth in order to keep Mary pure enough to give birth to Jesus) a polytheistic system simply accepts these forms as either Gods or as aspects of Gods. The basic stories do not even have to match up, as a polytheistic system accepts that Gods can manifest in many forms to different people, often even contradictory forms as needed by the people who worshipped them.

Athena is one such goddess. Appearing in so many forms as to baffle the mind, yet one must ask, is what remains at the core of a goddess such as Athena common to all of these?
The answer might well be yes.

If we consider her many aspects, aspects of virginity, war, metal worker, artist, poetry, etc., we may find that all of these are aspects that lead us, at their most fundamental levels, to wisdom.

The wisdom to remain unhindered by the ties of marriage, something that in Athenian society usually bound a woman to a rather cloistered life.

The wisdom to act to protect, defend the city, which was at the heart of defending civilization itself.

The wisdom to work metal and not only develop the tools of life and war, but also develop it into art.

The wisdom of nurturing the arts and needful skills of women, such as weaving, for this was a contribution necessary to the well being of the people and their civilization.
You'll notice that there is something at work here, that Athena, divine wisdom, seems very well tied to the preservation and spread of civilization, and that as such it is possibly the one aspect of her that is not explicitly named, but which we moderns would do well to remember.

The she was, and is, Athena, Goddess of Civilization.

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