Divine lady of the grey eyes
Who guards the land where Athens was born
Grant us your protection, your guidance, and your wisdom
For in wisdom are we saved from savagery
For in wisdom we are saved from the darkness that threatens our souls
O blessed queen of Alea
Divine mistress of the loom
Who teaches of the blessings of handiwork
Grant us a love of learning, of doing, of practicing our art
For in doing are we opened to your blessings
For in doing are we saved from the evils of our idleness
O blessed queen of Sparta
Divine lady of the sword
Who fights with the fierceness of a honed warrior
Grant us your arm, that we may gather the strength and courage to fight
For in our fight are we emboldened to seek better
For in our fight are we made ever the stronger
Athena as the Wisdom of Zeus
That's pretty normal, after all, all religion, myth, and history get interpreted by us, whether we like to admit it or not, and one of the interpretations, and not a very common one, but one that makes sense in a culture as entrenched in monotheism as our is.
For some, Zeus is conflated with Jehovah or Yahweh (or Allah, though most Moslems would likely take offense to that) and as such, the concept of Athena, the notion of a goddess of wisdom, is seen as the manifestation of the Wisdom of Zeus. That is to say, that Athena is, essentially, part of the godhead that is Zeus in much the same way that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are part of the same godhead as Jehovah.
I call this theological reductionism.
This is actually part of several religious paradigms. Perhaps the biggest religion to express similar ideas is Christianity, with the holy trinity, but Christianity does not refer to the aspects of God as Gods, as it goes against the idea of a monotheistic theology, but it is Hinduism that most makes use of this concept with many theologies expressing the notion that all the Devas/Gods are aspect of a greater being, of a greater reality.
The Greeks too had a similar concept, though the Greeks did not reduce their deities to a singularity, instead they accepted the idea that Gods appeared to different people in different ways, and they used epithets (titles) to make these distinctions.
So, what does it mean for Athena to be seen this way? Does it mean Athena does not exist? That Athena is just an aspect of Zeus?
Well, no! See, the cults of the Gods are fractured, always have been, and even in the most monotheistic of religions, there is fracture and difference in interpretation, so it is not odd at all that some people, especially people not vested in the Gods as the sources of veneration, like scholars, to see the Gods in these ways especially considering that the worshippers of these Gods themselves have trouble agreeing on the theological realities of the Gods themselves.
It is also not at all odd that a God like Zeus would have manifestations that would seem like other Gods, and when I try to explain such things, I think of them differently. I tend to think of these manifestations as angeloi (the word means angels) and so I can categorize these small aspects so as to not cause internal confusion.
Zeus is the greatest of the Pan Hellenic Gods. He was worshipped all over the Greek speaking lands, and more so, as the indo-european sky father, very similar deities were worshipped by peoples all over the North Mediterranean. Even among the Semitic people, the Sky Father was a powerful force, one which we see even today in Allah and Yahweh, and as such he was worshipped and given cult all over the land, and in these different lands he was given different titles which went along with the cultural values of the people who offered worship.
But all of these different cults, even those that were Greek, had their own ways of seeing the God, and even in a city, different tribes and families could have slightly different ways of seeing him. This leads us to how, for example, the Goddess we know as Athena could have come to be seen as being born from the head of Zeus rather than being born of the land, as one might imagine her to be given a more indigenous myth.
When the tribes of Indo-Europeans, with their Sky God, migrated into greece, slowly supplanting the local culture with a version of their own, one in which the two cultures blended, the Sky God we know as Zeus supplanted the local deities, one imagines they were mostly Goddesses, and in most cases, it was said that Zeus married them, but Athena is a special case, because even as Athens slowly grew, the people of that land were not likely to accept her as wife of Zeus. Maybe they saw her as a maiden, or maybe their local culture was too entrenched and they could not see her as being married to the God of foreigners, whatever the case, she developed not into the wife, mistress, or victim of Zeus, but into his daughter, and even then, she was seen as having been born of him directly rather than from her mother, Metis.
As Hellenic culture developed, the myths around her became strangely masculinized, and her association with Wisdom became set into the religious beliefs of the Greeks, because as the power of Athens grew, so did the influence of its divine patron, and as such it became more and more a necessity for this strongly patriarchal culture to tie her closer and closer to Zeus, and in many ways, it was due to this that this idea that Athena was the Wisdom of Zeus (and that Apollo, a God of Prophecy, was simply speaking the prophecies of Zeus) became a possibility in this religion.
So, I will give you my personal take, because that is all I can give you, and tell you that all Gods are wise.
ALL OF THEM!
So, when we say that Athena is the Goddess of Wisdom, what does that mean? Does it mean she is the wisest? No. Does it mean she holds the keys to wisdom? No. It means that it was to Athena that the people turned when they needed wisdom, when they felt that divine wisdom was needed to overcome an issue, to make a decision, etc., but this was not a universal thing, because different situations needed different kinds of Wisdom, and maybe when dealing with the cultivation of grains, it was Demeter's wisdom that was needed, and when dealing with matters of the heart the wisdom of Aphrodite, so perhaps what it means that Athena was the Goddess of Wisdom was that in her city, the city that worshipped her above others, she inspired learning and the cultivation of wisdom, and as such, the title stuck and people turned to her more and more for this wisdom.
And maybe, just maybe, some people turned to her and asked that she intercede with Zeus and help bring them his wisdom as well.
In the Golden halls of Olympus
Be my eternal guide
Lost and afraid
In need of your divine light
And in this world we live
In rapturous joy and torturous pain
Praying for the sweetness of love
A love of family
A love of friendship
A love of life ever confusing
Where we find you most easily
May we also learn to cherish you
Be my eternal friend
The Order of the Shield
I am not saying that traditional religions don’t have a culture of similarity, they would not be traditional if they didn’t, but the Traditional Religions (think Hinduism, Daoism, Shinto, etc.) are much more open to differences. These are religions that are cult centered rather than theology centered. The cults of gods, spirits, ancestors, etc., can and do exist almost on their own, yet connected to the rest by the culture of the people. So cults and even entire philosophies and theologies of particular deities can exist side by side, even if they contradict each other, yet be accepted by the population without a lot of question because they either accept that the gods are all part of a greater thing (The Universe, the Brahmin, Heaven, etc.) and/or they accept that not everything is clear and understandable and that they are free to search for the “truth” in many different places.
Ancient pagan religions were like this too. Some nations, like Egypt, had stricter notions of what was acceptable because they had a long and conservative history of Pharaonic control, but even there there were a variety of cults that often told different myths and held to different ideas about the nature of divinity, and in ancient Greece not only did every city have its own civic and religious calendar, but every city also had a huge variety of cults, often offering highly specific ideas about what it meant to worship, how that worship was accepted, etc. This didn’t destabilize Greek culture, Greek culture accepted this as part of every day life, that different cults offered bits of a reality they understood existed, but did not have the means to fully understand.
Pagans, and I mean neo-pagans, often try to form organizations, to find out what is the “correct” way to do things, but in reality that is the church’s influences on our culture. The churches of Christendom seek to organize, teach, and control the population through zealotry and intolerance of difference, and part of what they teach is that worship requires a commonality of belief.
This is not the case. You and I don’t have to believe the same things about the nature of the Gods, the nature of their power, the origins of life, the existence of an afterlife, etc., and our religions do not rely on these commonalities. We don’t have to be of the same cultures, languages, genders, sexual orientations, etc., we just have to want to worship.
This is what cults provide us, and within these cults we can agree to certain realities, certain ideas, certain beliefs while those very same things do not have to apply to another cult, even when it is a cult to the same deity.
We need to get back to this.
Many churches, even the biggies like the Catholic church, have orders. Orders of monks, of nuns, of believers of specific aspects of the faith that operate, often, as separate from the whole, and this is so for a reason, because no church, no matter how apparently monolithic, will ever quench the desire of people to explore the different aspects of the divine.
As Pagans, we are, or should be, already on the edge of this, because our religions are not supposed to be based on monolithic hierarchical structures, but on the desire to worship and share in the infinite variety of the the divine beings we call Gods.
So, I propose we found the Pagan Orders. Deities, each immensely different and immensely variable, having his or her own orders/cults not under some umbrella organization imposing rules, but simply as a means to worship them.
I should like to propose first the Order of the Shield, in honor of Athena as protector and warrior. A cult whose purpose is not to put forward any kind of theology, but to honor, thank, and worship Athena Poliouchos, Athena Areia, and Athena Alalcomenis.
War dances, shield banging, and games of strength and the warrior spirit in all of us. But more importantly, worship and encourage in ourselves the spirit of protection welcoming toward others.
Thanks for listening...
Sing today a song to Aphrodite, goddess of the dazzling smile, who rose from the sea and brought with her beauty and the scent of flowers.
Sing too to Hera, whose stern power binds those who pledge undying love, for in that bond lies a future of hope and joyful communion.
And to Demeter, mother of the corn, giver of sustenance, who you rely on for every morsel you taste, yet too often take for granted.
How do I feel about Christianity?
Answering a question like that is very difficult, because not only are my feeling on the issue complex, so is the issue itself.
The most basic answer is that my feelings about Christians and my feelings about Christianity are different subjects. After all, I can love and befriend anyone, from any religion, philosophical school, culture, language, political views, etc., without necessarily having to agree with any particulars of any of those.
So, about Christians, as people, I have no different feeling than I have for any other person. I do, however, have very complex, and sometimes negative feelings toward monotheism as a religious concept, and to the religions that subscribe to it. This means Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are religions I have huge issues with.
For one thing, Monotheism is, in my opinion, false. Even the monotheistic religions themselves contradict themselves on the idea of a singular all encompassing divine being. And my own belief, that divinity is not singular, contradicts this. As a matter of faith, however, I have nothing against people coming to a conclusion different from my own, even if it makes no sense to me.
Another thing that bothers me is the tendency of monotheistic religions to proselytize. It isn't enough to believe, you have to make other people believe too, and it bugs me how arrogant and self righteous this leads some people to become.
And then there is the zealotry. Oh, I know, this can often go hand in hand with proselytizing, but what I mean by Zealotry is the almost insane fixation on their religion and the need to impose that religion not just on people around them, but on everything. TV, Movies, Music, Clothing, all of it has to conform to their religion, and they don't just feel a need to preach their religion, which is proselytizing, but to force that religion on others, sometimes violently. This is basically the same, though not exactly, as fanaticism.
Any religion that encourages zealotry and proselytizing is one I am vehemently opposed to.
But most religions are not monolithic. There are sects in Christianity that are very non-violent, very non-zealous, and exist for the benefit of their adherents, not to spread like a virus. I have no problem with these. There are Islamic traditions that are non-violent, non-zealous, and whose main focus has always been the inner self. Meditating on their concept of god and seeking to understand the inner being, the soul, through rites of purification, I have no problem with these. There are Jewish sects that seek only to be left alone to follow their own traditions unmolested, choosing to not bother others in exchange. No problem there.
Unfortunately, human beings tend to gravitate to the more flashy, violent, arrogant forms of these religions more than to the peaceful ones. Perhaps because they give people an ability to feel superior to others, or because it grants them a feeling of power, either towards others or to themselves, and some people are just sheep, following along rather than thinking for themselves, and these people I have huge issues with because they do not really seek to aid others, only to further their own selfish needs and wants, and so long as this remains true of so many monotheistic religions (and some of the Eastern Religions as well) I will remain opposed to the idea of organized religion.
Because nothing is the world is more dangerous than mobs of zealots.
Into honest lead us
You will never
Not while we walk with you
For we shall not let you walk alone
Who are your eternal companions
You will never know loneliness
Not while you hold our hand
For we are your friend, your lover
Who are your eternal companions
You will never know a sad fate
Not while you dream with us
For we are unendingly creative
Who are your eternal companions
You will never fail
Not while you fear not to try
For we are your encouragement
Who are your eternal companions
You will never fear death
Not while you live a fruitful life
For we see you even when others do not
Who are your eternal companions
You will never die
Not while we live to remember you
For we have you in our hearts forever
We Gods, your eternal companions
High Upon the Mountain
High upon the mountain
Where the white caps meet the skies
And this world but grazes the heavenly realm
I spy you, O Lord of the Lyre
Where dancers spin in joy
Musicians accompany with glee
And all do you honor, shining Apollo
Low upon the earth
Where men sing your praises
And in ecstacy lay bare their hearts
I spy you, O Lord of Healing
Where nurses ply their caring trade
Mothers and Fathers pray in hope
And all call you, if not by name, loving Apollo
Immersed in the holy waters
Where purification may occur if sought
And all our doubts may be washed away
I spy you, O Lord of Purification
Where the wolf and the dear drink
Human and animal joined to a fair purpose
To drink of the waters of life, cleansing Apollo