Feminism and historical revisioning

I am the first to admit that I am, and have been for years, something of a feminist. In my  youth I was rather aggressive about it. However, the one thing that always made me sit back with a rather perplexed look on my face is the historical revision that often accompanies this, particularly in various flavors of paganism, that was, even in my  youth, very hard to swallow. It is the so called Her-story (so called on the premise that history is from the male perspective and therefore leaves out important things about feminine history including matriarchy etc). The thing is that much of this her-story is fabricated, or created by taking a mythical element and off-centering it, and in the process typically villifying gods, if not utterly dismantling their domains and powers and reassigning them to various goddesses (though under the guise of giving back the original distribution overtaken by the male conquering Indo-european sky gods).

Now in Hellenic religion we have many wonderful myths and cults of goddesses, particularly that of the Great Goddesses (Demeter and Kore). However like all gods and myths, the are not set apart without interaction of other gods and goddesses taking place. There are many instances, for example, of Apollon and his twin Artemis having a prominent depiction in relation to these goddesses, not to mention Hermes! Therefore when dismantling happens something valuable and worthwhile is being thrown away as the gods play important parts in the mysteries for the journey of the soul and the journey of Persephone. It is hardly by mistake that in Messene, according to records of Pausanias, that is a great grove Apollon Karneios and an image of Hermes carrying a ram are near a statue of Hagne (another name for Persephone) in the very grove where the most important rites of Demeter and Kore occurred, so great that Pausanias describes them second only to those performed at Eleusis. Therefore we have a very clear problem here for anyone trying to issolate the goddesses and their worship from the presence and domains of other gods. Of course when entered into discussion with any such person they say that they practice the prehellenic traditions of Greece of the worship of the Great Mother and Persephone…all of which is really frustrating, especially considering that the mystery program at Samos is supposed to be of greater antiquity and featured a mother (Rhea) and son (Zeus) predominantly. Not to mention that there really isn’t evidence available for what any such cult, if it existed as such, even looked like. Certainly nothing that can be brought into an argument without a great deal of creative interpretation. And I am sorry but the killing or dispute with a female figure doesn’t necessary mean that it indicates an aboriginal conflict, though I have seen that used alot by her-story authors.

But I think the villifying of the gods gets to me even more. I have seen people say outrigt tha they don’t like Apollon because he slayed the goddess Pythia. Now that gives me a pause for a few reasons. 1) Pythia wasn’t the name of a goddess, Pythia is a priestess of Apollon..though it is possible that like many other of Apollon’s epithets that Pythaea could have been attached to his twin, particularly as there are other versions of the myth that say she helped me to destroy the dragonness. 2) It was a dragonness, a great serpent, named Delphinia, an offspring of Gaia (as most dragons seemed to be, or offspring of other deities) and as such provided a kind of guardian role of a sacred spring. 3) the allegorical nature of myths means that you cannot just get the meaning by looking at what the myth is literally saying. Myths function with purpose, so it is a mistake to look at this myth and take away that it is a reminent of a god overtaking a goddess cult because you have a male god killing a female serpent. Even if she was a kind of semi-divine figure, there is no evidence of an achaic cult to the dragonness that I have ever read about…and in fact the local cult before the arrival of Apollon was that of Gaia. Now considering the rather volatile relationship that Gaia often has in myths with her divine descendants, turning in favor and against them alternately, it is not surprising that she resists the presence of Apollon initially. But it every myth you have a divine being who acts as a kind of opposition that a god or goddess must overcome. Hera is usually set in this position, but as she laid aside her anger at the birth of the twins, it is allotted to another divine figure. Gaia plays a great part because her oracles, those which came on dreams serve as a predecessor to the oracles of Apollon. The myth shows natural evolution at work as well as other things going on. Apollon, in a trade with Poseidon has gained Poseidon’s half of Delphi and therefore becomes a co-shareholder automatically with Gaia of the sacred area (which is populated by some goat-herds and the stream jealously guarded mythically by Delphinia), however Apollon takes an active role in Delphi. This doesn’t mean that Gaia is phased out or removed, and Apollon has epithets elsewhere that address him as being of the earth, and even his sacred luarel is born from the earth where she has swallowed Daphne according to one version of the myth. This doesn’t even account for the fact that Themis (who is acclaimed in several places, including by Aeschylus, whose family was a priest family of Eleusis) that Themis and the earth was the same, and was the very goddess who nursed the newborn infant Apollon, it sheds a new complexion on the matter. And then there is the fact that the serpent figures prominantly in many examples of art and iconary of the god. So for herstory pagans to come and say that Apollon is an invading god who overruns the oracle and kills the local goddess is so far off the mark that it is insulting. And of course this doens’t even get into what is said about other gods such as Zeus in particular.

In my opinion pagan adherents of herstory do as much damage to the polytheistic religions as some of the male victorian interpretors and historians who put little merit or focus on the goddesses. The reality is a complex web of both gods and goddesses are of equal necessity, and their mythical entanglements and affairs create a complex allegory of the cosmos and the journey of the soul. There are six male gods of Olympos and six female goddesses (and likewise an equal division of Titans and Titanides) for a reason. It is the natural appartation of power. We don’t need it warped in either direction for the male or for the female. I mean really, even the Amazons were acclaimed as daughter of Ares and Apollon too carries the epithet Amazonias, and for as much focus as herstory folks place on Amazons you would think that would count at least a little.

Let us have balance, harmony and moderation and not just spin off ideas without any evidential substance just to satisfy egos. Men are not greater than women, women are not greater than men…same true of the gods and goddesses for even Hera was considered to be of great prestige and rank as was her spouse. We do ourselves a disservice to consider it an either/or matter.


22 thoughts on “Feminism and historical revisioning

  1. If WordPress had an “OMG LOVE” button I’d be clicking that instead of “Like.”

    “–overtaken by the male conquering Indo-european sky gods”
    :flails: Let me TELL you..! I don’t think any author before 1950 was able to write about Indra without throwing in some of that Pantheon-Dominating Indo-European Sky God tripe. Arrrrgh.

    “Not to mention that there really isn’t evidence available for what any such cult, if it existed as such, even looked like. Certainly nothing that can be brought into an argument without a great deal of creative interpretation.”
    In the Vedic case, a few authors have argued that the Righteous Magical Water-God of the Perfect Equal Harmonious Sparkly Matrilineage Society, Varuṇa, was overthrown by the Aggressor Meanie Sky-God of the Oppressive Patriarchical Jerk Clan, Indra. I want to read the Veda translation they’re using. I’m sure it’s even more entertaining than pixy stix poured into Dr. Pepper.

    Anyway, just wanted to express that a) this is an excellent and valuable post, and b) I agree with it completely. 🙂

    • You know, I never would have imagined that it would be a problem with Hinduism for some reason, but now that you point it out I guess I can’t say I am entirely surprised…particularly if it is occuring among westerners who are adopting hinduism and distorting it to suite their purposes. This is just an entirely new one on me as I haven’t heard of this one before…ugh.
      pixy sticks poured into dr pepper made me laugh…even more so when I imagined the child that would be wired to the ceiling on it 😉

      • Pixy stix poured into Dr. Pepper makes the Dr. Pepper bubble up and overflow like a soda volcano. I had friends in high school that used to consume it for breakfast. 😛

  2. “The reality is a complex web of both gods and goddesses are of equal necessity, and their mythical entanglements and affairs create a complex allegory of the cosmos and the journey of the soul. There are six male gods of Olympos and six female goddesses (and likewise an equal division of Titans and Titanides) for a reason. It is the natural appartation of power. We don’t need it warped in either direction for the male or for the female”

    I totally loved whole the post but THIS SECTION is even more winsome than the rest. We don’t *need* rewiring history and whitewashing mythology in order to reinforce certain ideologies.

    • Thank you 🙂 I do want to point out that there is nothing wrong with being a feminist polytheist, but being such doesn’t mean that one has to actively butchering the religion either. For instance one can esteem Demeter and Kore the most, and even other goddesses, it is just the active rewriting of history, the cults, and myth that goes too far in my view.

      • I understand what you are sharing and agree, although I think there is room for more open interpretation considering the sources of established interpretation. It was just interesting that at a time when I find myself being called in a somewhat different direction, this article should appear. I agree, we must be very careful about rewriting, however, I think UPG gives us something more than those myths, IMO anyway.
        While I am embracing some of the Gods in my practice, I will always, at heart, be a feminist polytheist, dedicated primarily to the Goddesses. While some may not think one can separate Them, with respect for that opinion, I have found that I can.
        And thank you, BTW, for such polite discourse. Feminist Pagans have taken a terrible, and unfair bashing recently, but I’d rather not get into that can of worms. ; )

      • my thing is that these are the only sources that we have, that and archaeology. And so given what we have I don’t think that there is anything to support some of the interpretations I have seen. Especially with some of the groups who claim to perform the mysteries of Demeter and outright ignore that there are many gods involved religiously in said mysteries. Frankly that bothers me because it shows a preference to not just ignore texts written by male authors because of bias, but also to ignore religious history and archaeology. That plaques show a male and female figure (Apollon and Artemis from my readings and understadning) as torch bearing leaders of the initiates, as well as iconic art depicting Hermes and Iakkhos. Well it may be *possible* to seperate them, but then the result is something quite different and what is performed is dissimilar to a great degree to the ancient traditions from what evidence we have.
        It is not so much I have issues with people practicing as they like, because we will all have gods and goddesses we favor to different degrees, but rather with calling something what it is not from a traditional and historical perspective.
        That certainly doesn’t mean that one can’t focus heavily on the female gods, but it is also means that perspective should be kept in regards to the culture that they are coming from and the religious traditions that surround them, especially when it comes to mysteries and festivals. Demeter is a big one but so is Artemis, Hera and other goddesses. 🙂

      • And while I think one’s doxa (which is a term I have written of before that is more logical to use instead of UPG) can be important on an individual basis, I don’t think that they are any substition for the myths. Doxa can give one a deeper personal understanding, but the myths are the multilayered cultural and spiritual framework that informs of the psyche in regards the gods part in the cosmos and in relation to human spirituality. So while Doxa is valuable, Gnosis (knowledge) and its myth are even more so when it comes to the passing of traditions and what binds woshippers together and trasmits our spirituality and creates tradition. The Hellenic religion would not be the hellenic religion if for instance we did away with the myths and the gnosis, however the individual doxa has very little to do with the religion as a whole as it is a personal experience and informs only on a very personal level that is subject to change. 🙂

  3. Interesting post. I would also make a point that the myths are complex, multi faceted, and as Roberto Calasso says at the beginning of his book, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, that they are like the leaves of a fan, when a fan is closed, you only see one aspect, to really see it you have to spread it out to see it, so are the myths, all the variations help understand the underlying truth. You really cannot disentangle the Gods from Goddesses, and there is much paradox, a slain earth monster becomes the Aegis that protects Athena, Apollo slays a serpent and then makes snakes sacred and keeps them in his temples. Zeus is king of the Gods, but came from a female womb, and the earth underlies everything. I think the feminine was much more important in antiquity, even in Roman times, than modern thinkers want to acknowledge. That fortunately is starting to change.

  4. I enjoyed this post, Lykeia. I have seen this frustrating matter come up time and again. Have you read Cynthia Eller’s book _The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Won’t Give Women a Future_. It is on my booklist and if you’ve read it I am curious what you thought.

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