Archive for October, 2011

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Strong Women in the Odyssey

October 30, 2011

This was my midterm paper for World Lit. Since the subject was the Odyssey, I thought I’d share it here. I had to wait until it was graded and I got permission from the professor to post it. I didn’t want for her to find it and think I plagiarized it! Anyway, I got an A.
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The patriarchal nature of ancient Greece, Athens in particular, is much talked about. Despite this prejudice, with even a cursory reading of the Odyssey a myriad of strong women is revealed, both antagonists to the hero Odysseus and his helpers, both mortal and divine.
First among the allies of Odysseus is Athena, the revered Goddess of wisdom and war. Throughout the Trojan War, recounted in Homer’s Iliad, the precursor to the Odyssey, She often helps Odysseus in battle. The Odyssey begins by showing us a discussion between Zeus, King of the Gods, and Athena. At this point, Odysseus is being held captive by Kalypso, a nymph, on her island. His ship has been destroyed and all his men are dead. Athena convinced Zeus to command Kalypso to let Odysseus go, sending the message through His son Hermes, the Messenger of the Gods. Athena frequently stood up for Odysseus in the counsels of the Gods.
She then disguises Herself as a family friend to go to Odysseus’ adult son Telemachus, to rouse him to action. Athena is acting here in Her role as Guide of Heroes. She does not coddle Telemachus, does not do everything for him. Instead She points out the necessary path and inspires him to action. She helped Telemachus to grow up, to go from being a boy to a man. Indeed, Athena is depicted as being intimately involved with all of Odysseus’ family. There were several times throughout the action of the book when Penelope had retired to her room and cried, “till Athena cast sweet sleep upon her eyes” (book 19, line 646).
Even when Odysseus has returned home, Athena still helped him. She transformed Odysseus into an old man, aged and dirty, a homeless beggar. She plans with Odysseus and Telemachus, helping them to get revenge on the suitors. At the very end, when the friends of the suitors are ready to start a new war with Odysseus and his family, it is Athena who makes peace between them. “’Now hold!’ she cried, ‘Break off this bitter skirmish; end your bloodshed, Ithakans, and make peace.’” (book 24, line 550)
One of the most interesting characters in the Odyssey is the witch Kirke. She starts out as an antagonist, but through the machinations of Hermes and Odysseus becomes an ally. When they landed on Kirke’s island, Odysseus sent out some men to scout the island and look for friendly faces. They come upon the house of Kirke, where she greets them and invites them in for a meal and some wine. One of the men, sensing something is amiss, hangs back, and so he saw the other men turned into swine. He ran back to tell Odysseus, who decided to confront the witch. He took an alternative route through the woods. This time it is Hermes Who helps him. Hermes gave Odysseus a magical herb called moly, which counteracts the witch’s magic. When the cursed wine failed to turn Odysseus into a pig, Kirke is amazed, and she exclaimed, “Ah, wonder! Never a mortal man that drank this cup but when it passes his lips he had succumbed. Hale must your heart be and your tempered will. Odysseus then you are, great contender… Put up your weapon in the sheath. We two shall mingle and make love upon our bed. So mutual trust may come of play and love.” (book 10, line 355-365). She invited the hero into her bed, which Hermes had told Odysseus would happen. Odysseus makes Kirke swear a sacred oath that she will not work any enchantment against him before he will sleep with her, and she turns his men back to their original form, although they are in some ways better than before “younger, more handsome, taller than before” (book 10, line 428).
So Odysseus and his men stay on Kirke’s island for a full year, feasting and enjoying themselves. When it comes time for them to depart once more, it is Kirke who tells Odysseus that he must descend to the Underworld to seek the counsel of the the blind seer Tiresias. When the descent into the Underworld is accompliced, they return again to Kirke’s island. Kirke greets the triumphant travelers with another feast, stocks their ship with needed supplies, and counsels Odysseus on how to get past the sea-monsters Scylla and Charybdis. It is fair to say that without Kirke, Odysseus may have never made it back to Ithaka.
In Greek stories and plays, often the witches are the only (mortal) women with fully fleshed out personalities, besides queens. I cannot recall any instance of a man being portrayed as practicing magic in the stories, although we know from court cases that a few men were historically accused of it. Since, at least in myth, witchcraft is portrayed as a singularly female occupation, we can draw some conclusions about the Greek ideas of female power from Homer’s treatment of Kirke. She does not offer her bed to Odysseus until after he has proved himself her equal, since her magic does not work on him. Perhaps this was a trick to save her life, although it might be that Homer was saying that women really want to be conquered. After she is “tamed”, so to speak, Kirke is indeed very helpful to Odysseus and his men. This reminds me of the story of Jason and the Argonauts, who never would have claimed the Golden Fleece if Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, had not caused the witch Medea to fall in love with Jason. Once tamed by love, she lent her magic to Jason’s aid. Both these women are described as very beguiling and tempting. Although the Greeks feared the magic (power) of the witch (woman), they found them irresistible at the same time. Odysseus blames both Kirke and Kalypso for his sleeping with them, saying of Kirke “But in my heart I never gave consent”(book 9, line 35) and that Kalypso “compelled” him (book 5, line 163).
Last but not least there is Penelope, the woman who looms over the whole Odyssey as the wife that Odysseus is desperate to return to. She is a fitting mate for the crafty Odysseus, for she is cunning and shrewd in her own way. For twenty years she held the suitors at bay while she waited for Odysseus to return home to Ithaka. As she explains herself “Ruses served my turn to draw time out – first a close-grained web I had the happy thought to set up weaving on my big loom in hall.” (book 19, line 145) She told the suitors that she needed to weave a burial shroud for Laertes, Odysseus’ father, before she can marry one of them. Every day she worked on weaving the shroud, and every night she un-wove it. This trick worked for three years, but during the fourth year Penelope was betrayed by one of her maids, who was sleeping with one of the suitors, and she was caught un-weaving the shroud. Her ruse discovered, she had no choice to but to finish it. Had she not been betrayed by her maid, Penelope’s trick may have worked for much longer. Even after all the suitors have taken advantage of her generosity for so many years, she does not become burnt out on giving and continues to follow the law of Xenia (hospitality). When Odysseus returned home in the disguise of a old beggar man, Penelope graciously offered him her hospitality.
So one can see now that feminine intelligence dominates the Odyssey. This essay has barely discussed the other female antagonist of the Odyssey, the nymph Kalypso. It has focused instead on Odysseus’ patron Goddess Athena, the witch Kirke, and his wife Penelope. Yet we see here three examples of female power, three different manifestations of feminine power. There is of course the double standard of Penelope remaining faithful while Odysseus gets to enjoy himself with several other women. But for the time, this was a very interesting portrayal of women.

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More Intresting Links

October 18, 2011

An update on the attack of the Temple of Jupiter Perennus in the Ukraine from M. Horatius Piscinus. Good to know that the priest has been released from the hospital.

The bodies of 7 murdered shamans from Peru have been found, and 7 more are missing, presumed dead. Certain Christian groups in the area consider the indigenous shamans to be demonic, so it is likely that religious intolerance is at fault. Jason at the Wild Hunt reports.

Pictures from the Dussehra festival in India

Dver reports on her busy festival schedule of late. Includes some beautiful pictures!

Kemetic Reconnaissance talks about misconceptions surrounding Set

Poppaeus considers the opposition to use of the word “Pagan”

Talking with Isis

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Round-up of Interesting Links

October 10, 2011

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a round-up of interesting links, so this list is going to be a little bit long.

A Nova Roma Temple in Ukraine was attacked and vandalized by Orthodox Christians, and the priest was beaten so badly he had to be hospitalized (I heard on one of yahoogroups that I am on that he was recently discharged from the hospital). Pictures of the damage were posted on the Cultus Deorum Romanorum blog. You can go here to make donations to the rebuild the temple if you’d like to help.

Andrew Bowen of Project Conversion begins his month as a Wiccan.Although I have not been following every post Andrew makes, I have been aware of his project to learn about the world’s religions. He spends one month studying and living as a member that month’s religion. He always finds a mentor from each of the religions to guide him. So far he has done Hinduism, Sikh, Islam, LDS, Buddhism, and others. A month is obviously not a lot of time to go in depth, but he does seem dedicated and I believe it comes from a genuine desire to learn about and celebrate all the religions. I applaud his effort.

Sannion at the House of Vines comments on certain Christian groups trying to replace Halloween with JesusWeen. Yes, that’s the actual name THEY picked. Warning, link is extremely NSFW. More on JesusWeen at their official site.

Embracing polytheist Hinduism

The Pagan Newswire Collective reports on the Occupy Wall Street protests from a Pagan point of view

Apparently, current and modern Criminal Justice textbooks STILL are filled with false information about “ritual crime” inspired by 1980s Satanic Panic

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus over at Patheos talks about “the gay gods”

A drunken bride spends her wedding night in jail after deciding to celebrate her marriage by attacking her Pagan neighbor

Kenaz Filan talks some more about responses to the interview with led to Galina Krasskova leaving Patheos, because she refused to edit out supposedly “offensive” comments frankly discussing the use of illegal drugs

Religious People are Nerds

Lykeia discusses her experiences during Pagan Pride Day 2011

Wednesday at Metal and Iron talks about the good heroes

A guest post on Galina’s blog about the Goddess Columbia

Of Thespiae has an interesting interpretation of Aphrodite’s epithet Pandemos

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, again, reflects on Polytheology

And to end on a humorous note, I really want this book!

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Festival of Seshat, Lady of Builders

October 8, 2011

Note: I’m sorry for the variation in font size, I’m having a lot of trouble with WordPress right now. I hope it doesn’t make this post to difficult to read.

Tonight I celebrated the Festival of Seshat, Lady of Builders. This modern Kemetic festival, as observed by Neos Alexandria, is celebrated on World Architecture Day, which is the first Monday of October. Since my public rituals are on Fridays, my celebration fell on tonight. Unfortunately, no one from my regular group was able to make it tonight, so I celebrated alone.

First, a little information about Seshat Herself is in order, since She is often a lesser-known Goddess. Sesh means scribe, and so Seshat means “female scribe”. She is the Goddess of writing, mathematics, accounting, and learning. One of Her foremost titles was Mistress of the House of Books, showing She guarded libraries as well. Although Thoth is often considered the inventor of writing, in some stories Seshat invented writing and it was Her husband Thoth Who taught it to mankind. Seshat is alternately Thoth’s daughter or His sister. Considering Egyptian royal practices, She may be His sister and His wife.

Seshat typically wears a leopard or cheetah skin dress. She wears a headdress that is also Her hieroglyph. Her headdress could have many meanings. It may represent a papyrus plant, or a stylized flower or seven-pointed star. Above this symbol is an inverted set of cow’s horns. Henadology.com has this to say about the horns on Her headdress:


This sign is apparently indicated by a common epithet of Seshat, Sekhefabwy or Sefkhetabwy, ‘She who releases the two horns’, suggesting that the inversion of the horns—a typical headdress of Goddesses such as Hathor—implies their activation. The epithet may also incorporate the word sefekh, meaning seven, so that the epithet would mean ‘Sevenfold of the two horns’. According to Wainwright 1940, the ‘horns’ of her headdress were originally the month-sign with two feathers atop it1;

Others have suggested that it may have originally been a crescent moon, connecting Her to Her husband the Moon-God Thoth. She is holding a palm stem, into which She is making notches to record the passing of time. Seshat faithfully records everything that happens in the Universe, especially in the life of the Pharaoh.

Seshat is very important in a ritual known as the “stretching of the cord”, or Pedjeshes, which had to be performed in the foundation of a Temple. Seshat was closely related to architecture as well, She was called “Lady of Builders”.

The reigning pharaoh and a priestess personifying Seshat, the goddess of writing, proceeded to the site, each armed with a golden mallet and a peg connected by a cord to another peg. Seshat having driven her peg home at the previously prepared spot, the king directed his gaze to the constellation of the Bull’s Foreleg (this constellation is identical with Ursa Major, “Great Bear”, and the “hoof” star is Benetnasch, Eta Ursae majoris). Having aligned the cord to the “hoof” and Spica as seen through the visor formed by Seshat’s curious headdress, he raised his mallet and drove the peg home, thus marking the position of the axis of the future temple.

Cyril Fagan, Zodiacs Old and New (1951)

Although I have written a few poems in honor of Seshat before (one of which was included in the ritual), this was my first time actively honoring her. I had soft flute music playing in the background throughout the ritual. As I always do on the public ritual nights, I made an entire meal, complete with sides, and set a plate on the altar for the Goddess. I also offered Her one of bell peppers from my garden that I recently picked. I had the last minute inspiration to offer Her a cup of coffee, instead of the more traditional beer. My reasoning for this is that as a Goddess of mathematics and other technical skills, she might appreciate a more clear-headed type of drink. Since I am a coffee junkie, there is the added level that giving Her coffee is more of a sacrifice for me than beer. Besides, I already know from experience that Anubis likes coffee, so I thought I might try it with another Egyptian Deity. After the ritual I shared a theoxenia meal with the Goddess by eating a plate of the same food myself while sitting in front of the altar.

The Neos Alexandria suggestions for this day say that perhaps this is a good day to reflect on how we are building our lives and how strong our foundations are. I incorporated this into the ritual by making a list of my goals for the next year, such as moving to Arizona and getting into nursing school, beforehand and meditating on it afterwards. I intend to burn the list at a later time. After the ritual and meal I read a section of the book “Builders of the Ancient World: Marvels of Engineering”, published by National Geographic. All in all, it was a good night. Even if no one else was able to show up.

I share the ritual below. It was written with a group in mind, but was easy enough to adapt to solitary worship. As always, I share so that you can snag it for yourselves if you like it. Feel free to take it. But if you share it anywhere else, please give me credit.

Cleansing the Sacred Space

Carrying the khernips, the Priest/ess walks around the ritual area, sprinkling everything with the water. Recite the following as you make your circuit:

You are washed clean by the life-giving waters of the Nile! You are pure! No man has set foot on you, for you are the primordial mound rising from the broad depths of the Ocean at the First Time. You are pure!”

Take up the aparkhai and proceed to the shrine. Scatter the aparkhai and say:

To the givers of life, life!”

Taking the Ankh

Take up the ankh. Hold it aloft for a moment, then touch it to your lips in a reverent kiss. Now turn to the four cardinal directions, pausing for a moment at each, before turning back to the shrine. Touch each of the items on the shrine with the ankh, including the veiled image of the Deity. Then place the ankh upon the shrine itself. Do this in complete silence, mindful of the mystery.

Intro

We come together today to celebrate Seshat, Goddess of writing, counterpart of Thoth. She is the Mistress of the House of Books, a Goddess of learning in all forms. She is the Lady of Builders, Goddess of architects.

In Honor of Seshat, a hymn by Amanda Sioux Blake

I sing now in honor of Seshat, All-seeing Goddess

The female scribe, inventor of writing, stylus in hand
She Who records

Everything

Since the beginning of the Universe, unto its end.

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Lady of Builders, to Whose ears the pounding of hammers is as sweet music

The Engineer’s Goddess, Who inspired the architects of old Aiegyptos,

To build the great pyramids in the Valley of the Kings

Through which they achieved immortality

Goddess of architecture, of structures long standing

Of firm foundations and ancient stones

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Numbering Goddess, Lady of Mathematics

Calculating Goddess, Lady of Measurements

Lady of education in all forms

Friend of Neith and my Goddess head-born Athene

Three Goddesses of scholars, of the marble halls of learning

Lady of the House of Books, Holy Librarian,

Record-keeper of the Gods, wife of wise Thoth

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I offer this song of praise to Thy holy name,

Seshat Who wears the leopard-skin

As I embark on the scholar’s path

Be with me, Lady of Learning,

Open my mind to knowledge in all forms

Guide my pen as I scribe in Your name

Guide my mind in the pursuit of knowledge

Guide me, Goddess, in all my studies.

What we are building

As we honor the Lady of Builders, we recognize that this is a time to examine what we are building in our lives, to see if our foundations are strong. In the ritual of “the stretching of the cord” Seshat helped the Pharaoh to define the foundations of a new Temple before it was built. We are the architects of our lives. So today we examine our lives, and we will define what we are seeking to build in the next year. Come forward, and share your plans for the coming year. May Seshat give us Her blessings as we build our lives in the coming year.

Allow the worshipers to come forward, and speak their plans out loud while facing the altar. Alternately, you could have them write their plans for the year on a piece of paper beforehand, and ceremonially burn them at this time.

Offering

Great Seshat, Goddess of learning and building, come forth and enjoy these offerings we have prepared for You, this great feast. Share this feast with us, O Goddess.

Feast!

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