You can worship Athena and like sex, but that doesn’t mean that Athena likes sex

Or, Stop Forcing the Gods to Think About Everything Exactly Like You Do. They Don’t.

Sannion at the House of Vines recently alerted me, through his annual round-up of miscellaneous links, of a sex toy company that names itself for Athena. Yes, you read that right, Athena. The foremost of the Virgin Goddesses of Olympos. The cognitive dissonance is stunning. Others are already commented on the terrible inappropriateness of this name, including Wintersong Tashlin and Kenaz Filan, but as a priestess of Athena the Savior, I feel compelled to add my own voice to this debate.

I’m certainly no virgin, and Athena has never given me an indication that She has a problem with me worshiping Her or being Her priestess. In fact, most of Her priestesses in ancient times were married women. I fully believe that sex is a beautiful, sacred thing. But it is NOT sacred to Athena. Different things are sacred to different Gods. They have different spheres of influence. Sure, there is some overlap in certain cases. But in general, They specialize. This is natural, normal and healthy in a polytheist system. No God or Goddess is the be-all and end-all. No God is the God of Everything, as Yahweh’s followers claim Him to be.

I totally agree with Wintersong’s points here:

If you have even a cursory level of knowledge of Greek mythology, it is not hard to see what my problem is with “Athena’s Home Novelties.” You see, a driving element in the lore surrounding Athena is that She is a virgin goddess. We’re not talking about a deity simply without any tales featuring sex, or whose purview was some unrelated area of life. No, the fact that Athena is a virgin is actually really important in Her lore and Her place in Greek culture and mythology.

Not only is She virginal, She’s modest. In a culture that treated bare breasts as fashion accessories (even fellow virgin goddess Artemis is often seen in an off-the-shoulder number too revealing for Project Runway), Athena is portrayed fully clothed in either voluminous robes or armor.…..

It seems that in naming this company, Athena was chosen because She is A) female and B) powerful, which in itself is insulting to women, sexuality, and the deity Herself. It implies that the goddesses of love and passion are somehow lesser than the virginal goddess of war and wisdom, and that the person choosing the name didn’t see beyond Athena’s gender to what Her identity was, which is a insult to women as well as gods.

Apparently, this company is run a woman who considers herself a Pagan, Jennifer Jolicouer. I’ll buy that she’s sincere in her belief. She seems to be a genuinely good person as well, having contributed to many charities and educational efforts. I believe that sexual education and healing is very important, but it belongs under Aphrodite’s auspices, not Athena’s. I’m going to respond to some of her points in the comment she left on Kenaz’s original post. Kenaz responded himself in a second post, where he makes many good points.

Owning a business is not for the faint of heart, nor is trying to change discriminatory beliefs about sexuality. I was declaring war on the oppression of female sexuality – which I believe any human being knows is a war worth fighting. ….. I wanted strength and wisdom to be our guide. Not the outward sexuality.

So, Aphrodite is not strong? Aphrodite is not associated with war? WRONG! Aphrodite is not the dumb blonde, giggly, Playboy bunny, cardboard caricature that most modern mythology books make Her out to be. Some of Her lesser-known titles are the Black or the Dark, Bringer of Victory, Mistress or Queen, and Bearer of Arms (weapons). She was also called Areia, which means both “Of Ares” and “Warlike”. Interestingly, several of these epithets She does share with Athena, but please note that none of them have anything to do with sex. Aphrodite was sometimes said to follow Ares into battle to fight alongside Her lover. Does that sound weak to you? I didn’t think so. Also, I would add that Hermes is a God of business and would be a great ally in commerce, but I guess she didn’t want to have to pray to a male God.

I don’t think it is fair that some feel that only “virgins” can serve her. I do not place myself higher than Athena. She is my patron Goddess and I worship her at my altar.

As I said earlier, I sure as hell am not a virgin, and many of Her ancient priestesses were married and had children. I fully enjoy my sexuality. But Athena has no interest in sex, Her own or others. She doesn’t care about my sex life. It is Aphrodite Who wants women to be empowered and comfortable in their bodies, something I have written about extensively (in my soon to be published book, not very much on this blog). I find Athena to be very interested in social justice and oppression, but not the oppression of women’s sexuality as Ms. Jolicouer says above. That is Aphrodite’s realm. I think Wintersong Tashlin hit the nail on the head when he said that the Goddesses of love and passion are often viewed as inherently lesser than Athena and other warrior Goddesses in modern culture, even among Pagans.This is an insult to both Athena AND  Aphrodite.

If the mighty Athena was not pleased with my path, she would have stopped me long ago. Instead, she walks beside me, guides me and is a powerful ally.

I disagree vehemently with the “financial success = divine approval” equation that I see many people using today, Pagan, Christian and otherwise. This is the same idea that Christian prosperity theology is based off of, and I find it flawed. The bankers on Wall Street sure are succeeding by our crass culture’s standards, and I  certainly don’t believe they have divine approval, unless you are talking about the God of thieves (and even then, it’s iffy). As one of the commentators on Kenaz’s post said, sometimes the Gods will give us enough rope to hang ourselves with. Then again, maybe you’re just a good businessperson and should be crediting yourself instead of divine influence.

To be honest, thinking of Athena and sex in the same sentence turns my stomach, and the reaction of most of the ancient Greeks would be the exactly the same. I cannot integrate it into my image of the Goddess. For reasons I cannot fully explain, I am attached to Athena as the inviolate Virgin Goddess, and in ALL Her mythology She was pictured as such. The ancient Greeks are in agreement with me here. I respect the beliefs of others, and I recognize that the Gods most likely show different aspects of Themselves to different people. I also realize that culturally Athena and Medousa were probably originally different aspects of the Cretan Snake Goddess, and that They continue to have some meaningful connections. But for me, Athena has always manifested as Parthenos, incorruptible, firmly virginal. This feels much more important to me then the virginity of either Hestia or Artemis, both of Whom I can accept having a merely symbolic virginity much easier. This is my experience, but I am not alone. I have thousands of years of writings and personal experiences to back me up. I don’t doubt the Ms Jolicouer loves Athena. But you can love Athena and still be wrong. I feel the touch of Athena in many aspects of my life. Many, but not all. Referring the title of this piece, just because I worship Athena and I like to have sex does NOT mean that those two things have to be related in anyway. They aren’t. I agree with what Kenaz has to say about this:

In the end this is a dispute about theology.  It is possible for reasonable people to disagree on these issues and yet remain cordial or even friendly to each other.  I don’t accept Muhammad as the Seal of the Prophets, nor do I believe the Q’uran and Hadiths should be the ultimate arbiters in all matters spiritual, social and scientific. But I can still acknowledge the contributions Islam has made to our world and remain friends with Muslims. In a similar vein I might question the decision to name a sex toy shop after a modest virgin Goddess yet recognize the sincerity and devotion of those who do. In fact, I’d say this kind of discussion is vital to developing a polytheistic spiritual community.  The fact that we care enough to debate these topics suggest we are moving beyond play-acting and into genuine devotion.  We are arguing about how the Gods should be respected, but we are in agreement that They are worthy of respect.   

  10 comments for “You can worship Athena and like sex, but that doesn’t mean that Athena likes sex

  1. November 24, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I very much enjoyed your commentary, and am thrilled that you liked my post on this topic, particularly since my own contact with Athena has been quite limited.

    However, if you could please correct my name in your post I would be quite grateful. My name is Wintersong Tashlin (of clan Tashrisketlin, from which my name is derived) rather than Talesin.

    • November 24, 2011 at 5:05 pm

      Opps! I apologize, its since be corrected. It was very late at night when I wrote this. And you did a great job on your post for not having any contact with Athena. You understood her mythology quite well. There are even some stories with approach Her as a Virgin Mother Goddess, but despite the Mother part, VIRGIN was still very much emphasized.

  2. November 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Great post! And you are absolutely right. The lovely thing about being a polytheist is that we have gods that represent power in respects which one does not. Athena doesn’t have to fill that role when Aphrodite is a very powerful goddess in her own right. Poor Aphrodite getting so much lack of love in this respect. It took me a long time in my youth to recognize the powerful figure Aphrodite was, and not just some cuddly bunny. Unfortunately this view of her persists and in exchange goddesses like Athena are spun into roles that have nothing to do with them, insulting the gods all around I would say. In short I agree with you 100%!

    • November 24, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      I used to be kinda disdainful of Aphrodite as well in my teenaged years. It took me falling in (reciprocated) love for the first time to really understand how powerful She is. That and finding as this research that even the ancient Greeks didn’t see Her that way. Hail Aphrodite, Lady of Love!

  3. Jennifer j
    November 28, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    Something you have not taken into account – and it’s really fun to see my words picked apart – is that there is nothing in my company literature that says anything about Athena liking or wanting anyone to have sex.

    The only mention of her is that I chose her, my patron Goddess to watch over my company as the Goddess of Wisdom and War.

    I never ever say anything about her and sexuality.

    And my company has been in business for 14 1/2 years – what do you want me to do? Change the name?

    Come on.

    All of you who have chosen to write about my company name did so without doing one shred of research on me or my business and what we represent.

    You just judged swiftly, accusing me of being lazy, disrespectful and a “supposed pagan”. How insulting to me a human being who devotes her life to so many positive things. I am a proud Pagan and it’s been rough to be targeted in this way.

    I have been perplexed by your insistence that I have insulted Athena. I asked Athena to watch over my company and provide me with the wisdom necessary to run my business. That was the gift that I needed from her and she has provided it to me.

    You continue to stay focused on the fact that she was a virgin Goddess and that she would want nothing to do with sex or sexuality. Is that truly the aspect that defines her? Her sexuality?

    She is the Goddess of Wisdom…and that is who I see when I connect with her.

    Blessed Be.

    • amy smith
      April 12, 2015 at 3:35 am

      Your response here is a very tactful reminder that people from a community that can be judged harshly from the outside need to remember not to judge quickly themselves. And that embodies wisdom. 🙂

  4. Jennifer j
    November 28, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    And I love and revere Aphrodite too, by the way.
    I visited Aphrodite’s Rock when I was in Cypress. I gave thanks and brought gifts to honor her, just as I did in Rhodes and Athens.

  5. April 27, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    I want to worship athent how will i do it

  6. Aeden
    May 16, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Don’t know if this post is still alive, but I stumbled upon this page and wanted to respond:

    The word “virgin” is highly misleading nowadays. From the original etymology, the word “virgin” translates to “beholden by no man” – meaning NOT MARRIED. “Virgin” originally held little connotation to sexual endeavors. It was about a woman’s freedom and indepedence from being second to her husband.

    As such, Athena’s sexual habits mean nothing other than she chose not to be married (and thus she would have freedom to chose who she had sex with or didn’t have sex with). As silly as this sounds to us now, I just want to point out also that Aphrodite was considered a “virgin goddess” back-in-the-day due to this definition, as well as Artemis. There are mulitple accounts of both of these “virgin goddesses” engaging in sexual intercourse.

    In conclusion, I just want to throw out there that I’m rather neutral to this debate, but I think spreading this knowledge is important to the context of several gods and goddesses. 🙂

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