For a while now, the sign of Capricorn has been home to a major planetary transit involving all the heavy-hitters of the sky: Pluto, Saturn, Jupiter, the Dragon’s Tail (Lunar South Node) and Mars. Themes of power, patriarchy and fundamental change abound. On January 19, asteroid Pallas (Athena) walked right into that boys’ club and made herself at home. She knew the secret password, and the handshake, and as she settled into her leather armchair, I like to think that all the others sat up a little straighter and minded their Ps and Qs. In any case, they all made room for her as an honorary member.
If you look up the goddess Athena, you will see that she was the Greek goddess of wisdom, warfare and craftsmanship. You will also read the bizarre of story of her birth: Zeus, having swallowed her pregnant mother Metis in fly-form, has his head cleaved open nine months later and out pops Athena, fully formed and dressed in armor. From then on, she is the “bright-eyed” darling of her father, and friend to every hero: Perseus, Heracles, Odysseus, Achilles, Jason, and also those of mortal blood. Men would call on her for guidance and protection, as she presided over many aspects of masculine life, from the smithing of armor, to safe passage in travel, to strategy of battle and the founding of cities. She called for bravery, prudence, honor, temperance, and violence only when necessary—a more measured foil to her hot-headed and blood-thirsty brother Ares and to war goddesses of other traditions. She carried something called an “aegis,” a shield-shaped object that was covered with animal skin and contained the severed head of the Gorgon Medusa. Her symbols were the owl, the snake and the olive. And of course, she was a virgin.
Not a lot of references to women in there, you might have noticed. In the few stories where women are present, she is either punishing them or taking the side of their male adversary. Even her own mother is made irrelevant to her birth story. For all of Zeus’s favoritism and the elite status that she enjoyed, it’s easy, as a woman, to dislike Athena, or to see her as a traitor to her sex. But when we consider the Greeks’ attitude towards women, and the fact that history (and mythology) is written by men, it’s clear that there is some repression of the Feminine going on here. Let’s do a little digging and see if we can get to the heart of Athena, beyond her armored and marble exterior. I feel like we owe her that.
The Old Goddess is signaling through her in a number of ways if you know where to look: for starters, her symbols. Snakes? They are the guardians of secret knowledge and power over life and death, and they hearken back to the most ancient of earth deities. And snake-haired Medusa? Her name means either “guardian” or “knowledge,” depending on where you look. The guardian of knowledge that was usurped, appropriated or almost forgotten altogether, you might say. Owls? Mysterious, nocturnal, “wise” creatures, who can see in the dark—an apt metaphor for a shaman. And the olive, known to humans for thousands of years—a symbol of life, hope, renewal and anointment. These are all mythological indicators of the life and death cycle, and the one who assumes power over those transitions, who mediates between the world of the living and the dead, has always been the healer. The healer, it is my belief, was originally an agent of the Goddess. And the wisdom that came from wielding that power, came through Her. Athena was not known ostensibly as a shamanic healer goddess, but it would make perfect sense that at one point she was. Let’s look further.
To the Romans she was Minerva. She was basically equivalent, but tellingly, she also presided over medicine and weaving. The Roman Britons associated her with sacred springs and made her the goddess of the spa bath. The name Minerva has its roots in an ancient moon goddess, whose name meant “She who measures.” What did she measure? The length of life. Aha. First snakes and owls, and now weaving, healing waters and the moon—we are solidly in the realm of the Divine Feminine. Throughout various traditions, one’s destiny was conceptualized as women spinning or weaving the tapestry of life: beginning, ending and beginning again, just as the moon endlessly waxes and wanes. The Greeks called them the Moirae, and they were three in number: one to spin the thread of life, one to measure it, and one to cut it. Life, and death, as feminine art form. As the goddess of handicraft, Athena is about much more than metalworking and weaponry; she is about artisanry. And, what’s more, about the sacred wisdom that is embedded in traditional women’s work or the practices of indigenous peoples. That last part we are in danger of forgetting.
When you trace names like Medusa, Metis and Minerva back to their origins, their roots all have to do with the mind and “knowing,” and here we get to the crux of Athena’s dissociative nature. As Zeus’s favorite daughter, this refers to the mind of the cunning strategist, the analyst and the rational thinker. As the moon goddess of life and death, it is the mind as memory holder. Both are important, but our culture has rewarded one and relegated the other, and to our detriment. In her Olympic form, Athena maintained her role as goddess of wisdom, but the general implication was that men were the possessors of wisdom, not women. Wisdom, as I see it, is gained from a relationship to the past, or a relationship to nature. Athena is out of touch with her feminine nature because we are all out of touch with our feminine nature—our moon memory. It is not lost, just misplaced. Part of our great awakening, I hope, will be about recovering it and remembering how to live in harmony with the earth.
As I write this, it is March 19, the day the Romans celebrated the artisans’ festival of Minerva, and asteroid Pallas is exactly conjunct Mars and Jupiter (Ares and Zeus). They are currently being deployed to plan, strategize and fight against the coronavirus with all their combined knowledge and determination. As she meets up with Saturn and Pluto, the fight could get more intense, as the Old Gods have their say. I’m glad for Athena’s level-headed presence at this time. She will move into Aquarius on May 19, and will still answer to traditional Saturn, but also to forward-thinking and inventive Uranus, who is in Taurus, the sign of the natural world. Conversations will be, among other things, about how we use our skills; what skills we value as a society; and the patronizing attitude we’ve taken throughout history toward the vital contributions of women and the indigenous. When we remember that art and craft are born of lineage, and contain memory, maybe we will start to see the artist as a healer, and sacred to the world.
Working with Athena-Minerva means asking: what does wisdom mean to you? What special or specialized knowledge have you learned or been taught, and by whom? What do you “see” and therefore “know” that the natural world or spirit world communicates to you? Find 2 Pallas in your chart and that will give you some insight. We are all wise, in some way.
Sources: Robert Graves “The Greek Myths”, thequeenofheaven.wordpress.com, Wikipedia