I give a lot of love on this blog to Apollon, but in truth there are many deities in my household that receive adoration and offerings, half of which are goddesses which have a recognized power and authority in my household. This has seemed like a natural thing to me as a polytheist that I would give adoration and esteem equally among the goddesses and gods of my household, regardless of what gender biases were placed upon various cults and may have influenced part of the form of mythic narratives (although much of that rests on interpretation, and I argue that a allegorical approach to myth rather than literalistic-historical approach actually leaves greater flexibility in unpacking the myths and how they (as they were designed to do) inform and impact our relationship with the gods. It has been easy for me, in fact, to forget that there are still matriarchal goddess-centric spiritualities out there just as I prefer to ignore masculine-centric spiritualities as neither of these are part of my spiritual life. Yet every now and again I get reminders, and the last few days there has been a lot of sharing on social media around specific circles regarding the benefits of goddess spirituality and the myth of matriarchy. Now before I go any further, I want to go on record in restating that I don’t view polarized spiritualities that esteems a god OR goddess as superior narratives, nor either being more peaceful or benevolent than the other. Much of the biggest problem with the matriarchal focused goddess centric spiritual narrative is that it views what it considers feminine nature through rosy lenses, and makes huge assumptions of a mythic benevolence of a goddess led spirituality and matriarchal society.
Rather, I have a more pragmatic relationship with my deities in that I recognize the raw power, ferocity, benevolent, martial, parental, destructive and so on qualities that are recognizable in both gods and goddesses. While many myths like to depict many of these more aggressive qualities through narratives that include jealousy (often appearing in myths of Hera) and the feeling of being slighted in some way (typical of Leto myths, but also fairly common appearance in the mythic narrative of several goddesses), it matters less to me the social vehicle of the basis of that fierce nature (and we know well from the texts of Pausaias that the details of mythic narrative have little to do with the actual cult relationship of the deity as for example the relationship of Hera and Io in Argos plays out in worship a lot differently than the hostilities and jealousies in myth while honoring the greatness of the divinity of Hera), and more that it is very present and potentially ravaging…and more so that it often demonstrates with it the autonomy of the goddesses regardless of their mythic relationship with the gods. Hera has no qualms about taking some time off away from Zeus in myth, Artemis may insult and scorn her twin brother (via the war of the gods in the Iliad) and spends much time away from the company of males, as does Demeter by choice. In fact many actual cults of the goddesses of Hellas, regardless of being a “patriarchal society”, stand on their own or are locally at the fore in their relationship with the their male relatives as much as they may take a backseat in localities that are sacred to the latter. Moreover there is a demonstration of the goddesses not being dependent on a god to act on their part to address their grievances. The goddesses are quick to show both benevolence and punish by their own determination and power without any other deities involved. As such I do not feel a need to push for creating a completely different narrative to address the power of these goddesses, nor any benefit to re-imagine their worship as superior to their masculine brethren.
Actually, when it comes right down to it, most of my relationships with the male deities of my household have the gods predominantly interacting with the household functions in quite a benevolent and calm manner that does not even particularly dominant neither worship or worship space. This doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize or experienced other qualities of these gods, but that the more aggressive and dominating qualities are given less attention. For instance, wherein I honor and appreciate the kinetic strength of Poseidon, the master of the waves and shaker of the earth, there is more focus on his fertile moisture-rich nature that is particularly honored during Poseidonia. From childhood he has always seemed like a loving paternal deity). Zeus likewise takes on more agrarian functions, especially in regard to the food storage of the household as a kind of lord of the pantry and lord of the fruitfulness and goods of the earth as part of his kingly nature as overseer of the cosmos, even though I witness the raw electric power of the lightning that illuminates all the sky and may devastate any that it touches. I have probably experienced more range with the nature and providence of Apollon given that is the god that I am devoted to and have invested the most in my relationship with just as I tend to on a lesser scale with Dionysos, yet it is my relationship with the goddesses (Apollon and Dionysos aside) that have tended to pack more active wallop and authority. Part of this may have to do with as a woman that these goddess still very much shape my life experience and I naturally draw towards them and am more open to experiencing their direct influence. Aphrodite and Artemis were the first goddesses I established relationships with that were very active in my maturing process in my youth, whereas Hera, Leto, and Rhea were more influential in my worship later when I became a mother and wife and a mature woman. In fact I had a difficult time establishing a worship relationship with Hera until I was in my mid to late twenties when I was able to look even better past the myth and understand the power and dignity of Hera Teleia, and appreciate her stormy nature as Hera Telchinia (in fact in wind storms I pray to both Hera Telchinia and Apollon Telchinios).
Even Demeter, with whom I have less of a regional relationship with because of the lack of grains that grow successfully this far north, I have gained firmer relationship in my worship with and now shares a prominant place with Hera and Aphrodite at the household altar as I grew to understand the emotional strains and sorrows of being a mother and watching ones children grow and slowly separate themselves from the familial network and the authority of their parents. This very independence being something I greatly prized and pursued happily in my youth as a devotee of Artemis, I can understand and appreciate the sorrows of it now as I watch my eldest daughter go through the growing pains of being a teenager girl and spreading her wings to get herself ready to depart the authority and governance of the household. This gives a new appreciation to those mystic festivals of Demeter and Persephone that were likely female only by social norm because of these very experiences in which a mother experiences the loss of her offspring, especially as daughters were often married and lived their adult lives very far away from their parental households. Such attachments were deemed in that culture as being particular to maternal parental unit, and yet in this day and age I would say that this makes the worship of this deity poignant and important for mothers AND fathers if we seek a better world in which men are recognized and lauded as loving fathers and establishing deep relationships with their offspring rather than the aloof disciplinarian and guardian qualities that were considered of high esteem in the past. We say that feminism allows boys and men to embrace these “traditional” feminine qualities but we have to realize that when we do it has to change how we perceive the relationship of men to goddesses (and therefore yes downplaying the emphasis on the female mystery once we realize that these deep seated mysteries of the home and hearth are not *female* exclusively) and such rather than rejecting our gods should seek to redefine our relationship with our gods and the way we see them. Seeing the gods as authoritarian aggressive and violent beings produced from a particular interpretation of the myths (including woman hating, just as Artemis is not “man-hating” as she possesses a long history of male devotees) that we as worshipers widen our expectation of experience of the gods and recognize these broader qualities of the nature of the gods that allows what is often classified at “feminine”.
A great example of this would be Zeus as I mentioned above. He gets a lot of flack, and is often nearly reviled among some goddess-centric worshipers. Yet few would probably recognize the agrarian quality of his nature and food/sustenance providing qualities, much less the loving paternal nature of the god who is father of gods and men. That when the household worships him as the serpentine Zeus Kteosis often associated with the food stores, or Herkeios where he is the god of the family unit (and therefore emphasizing familial bonds) as the lord of the courtyard and boundaries of the domicile, Both Kteosis and Herkeios likewise have regional attachments with the title Patroos which designates this commonly worshiped Zeus in every household was recognized as “father”. This highlights the gentler common nature of the god which is kindly and loving towards mankind. As such, even though I know of no particular household cult of Hera that parallels that of Zeus, more often her cult took on wider public functions, in my household I have adjusted in recognizing the airy queen of the pleasant winds and stable earth, the cow-eyed goddess, as being richly maternal too towards the household as well as aggressively protective in regards to the well-being of the family members. When my husband was out of work, I prayed just as much to her that she extend her hand towards the wellbeing of our family that we would not know any greater hunger and impoverishment, for she is queen and possessing great bounties in her own right and as queen of the cosmos she is as a maternal being to all things (even her whipping Artemis with her own bow in the Iliad demonstrates this maternal alignment as she punishes her as a child, or as chariot driver of Athena during the battle between the gods emphasizing her fierce loyalties to those who are her own. The point I am making here in discussing Zeus and Hera in this paragraph is that adjusting our worship relationship is necessary for both the gods and goddesses as we can appreciate and value the broader domains of these deities. This not require one to laud god over goddess, or goddess over god, but to give adoration to their great individual powers and influences that impact our lives and homes, that which is protective, aggressive, nurturing and loving in both the gods and goddesses. As well as acknowledging the dangerous qualities that are present in each to varying degrees.
As such it is time set aside outdated notions that certain deities were pertinent to specific genders or the life experiences of specific genders exclusively (often due to one being poorly historically informed such as in the case of Artemis when people assume that she is strictly a goddess of women, girls and female life experiences without realizing that historically she had such a large male following). It is past time to appreciate the beautiful balance of our polytheisms which honors such diverse and powerful deities, both goddesses and gods alike that potentially gives an equal table and partnership to men and women should we embrace it. For this I praise Athena and Apollon who are deities who have championed social change and justice under their divine authorities, things which are ever evolving. May Athena embolden our hearts and broaden our minds and Apollon bless us with truth and clarity as they stand together.