Thursday, 22 January 2015

Sisters of the Valkyrie? (Part IV) Goddess Athena

There are Valkyrie-like goddesses and demi goddesses in other belief systems, who resemble the characteristics of the Northern Valkyries. It makes you wonder if they belong to the same species or come from the same root legend. I plan to make several entries about the subject, starting with individuals and then perhaps go onto research different aspects of the Valkyrie.

The fourth entry on this series "Sisters of the Valkyrie?", is about the Greek goddess Athena. She is a goddess of war, wisdom, agriculture and the arts. She is knowned as a protectress, guardian and lady of the city. Despite being a goddess of war, she was never a vicious goddess and neither a goddess of doom and gloom. Her attributes have been to to give guidance and strategy. All of the weapons she ever used belonged to her father, the great ruling god Zeus.

It's said in mythology that Athena was motherless. What is said in myths is that she emerged from her father's head. Her actual mother, named Metis who was an Oceanid and lover of Zeus, was imprisoned within Zeus after he'd swallowed her whole. She was already pregnant with Athena when this happened. When she was inside Zeus, she helped make a helmet and armour for her baby daughter. Zeus suffered a severe headache and asked Hephaestus, god of metals and fire, to cut open his head with a sharp axe. Once his head was open, a little girl in armour and wearing a helmet jumped out. This was the unusual birth of goddess Athena.

It should be pointed out that Athena was born twice. First she was born from her mother who was inside the god Zeus. And secondly, born from her father's head to appear to the world. However in Lybia, where Athena was also worshipped, she was the daughter of Poseidon and the lake Tritoris.

She carried an aegis, a sheepskin shield hemmed by snakes. Later on after the hero Perseus killed the gorgan Medusa, Athena placed the head of Medusa on her shield. She assists heroes and warriors, priestesses and princesses.

However, apart from her helpfulness, she also has a dark side. I already mentioned Medusa, and the story behind that is tragic. Medusa was once a beautiful maiden with yellow hair, aquamarine eyes and rosy red cheeks. She was vain and often took her ego trip to heights boasting that she was prettier than all the other maidens but she was also a priestess of the goddess Athena. She was in the temple of Athena, where Medusa lost her virginity and offended the goddess. An outraged Athena transformed Medusa into a monster, turning the maiden's hair into writhing snakes, her rosy skin went a sickly green hue and her aquamarine eyes became blood-red. No one would look at her from then on and no one could ever look upon her. The monster would turn anyone to stone if they looked at her eyes. This was a severe punishment by the goddess.

There is also the story of Arachne, a beautiful princess who was clever at weaving. She challanged goddess Athena to a weaving contest. Arachne boasted that her weaving tapestry was better and with this remark, the goddess punished her to death. She was overcome by remorse, and brought Arachne back to life in the form of a spider. Athena also punished mortal men when they looked at her when she took a dip in a river. She blinded them.

Although she could be cruel, she was also compassionate and often regretted what she did afterwards. Athena was one of the most beautiful goddesses but she was also a virgin goddess, linked to the Maiden aspect of the triple goddess. Considered a pure maiden virgin goddess of light, wisdom, corn, weaving, the flute, the sun and the moon, day and night. She rejected male advances and even fell out with men and gods, such as Ares. The god Hephaestus raped Athena, and in distress she wiped off the semen from her thighs and left it on snow. There sprang a child, who Athena raised. The child was named Erichthonius and he grew to became a divine king. Some myths portray this son of Athena to be part human and part snake. 

Athena's sacred animals include snakes and birds, especially the owl. Owls are a symbolic link to the spirit world because in all ancient Indo European beliefs, owls have been considered guardians of the dead and helpers of souls. Owls are said to help someone cross over the realm of the living to the afterlife. Goddess Athena was always with her little owl, who helped her understand truths. In battles, if Athena's owl flew over the armies, it was a sign of victory. Sometimes Athena took on the form of an owl or an eagle. Earlier myths of Athena have her winged sometimes.

Athena was regarded as a solar goddess because of her "shining bright eyes". She is also a nocturnal goddess and moon goddess, who reflects light, and her eyes flashed, enabling her to see in the dark. Her eyes have been said to appear "silver" in colour. Her hair is a pale blonde, and her costume is golden. In pre-Classical times her outfit was once depicted in a long thick chiton gown with armour of scales hemmed with snakes but later she came to be wearing a flowing Grecian toga with split, golden belt, gold bracelets, gold braided headband and glittering sandles. Some statues and paintings have her helmetted with a red plume and topped with an image of goddess Nike. Goddesses such as Athena and Nike entered battle usually to bless the warriors and assist them, using owls, or becoming birds themselves to fly across the battle fields.    

Links on Athena:

Goddess Gift, Athena
The story of Athena
Greek myth... Athena

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