Old Goddesses Never Die

Somethings never change – and most of our ancestral problems are mirrored in the myths that they created to give meaning to Life and all of its mysteries. What to do with Mom and Dad is the plaintive cry of the child as Mom and Dad grow old and progeny end-play each other in a bid for their share of divinity. How to get rid of the old folks, move them on to retirement, ease them out of their inheritance and reapportion the power amongst the new contenders; it’s a family problem, a tribal problem, a national problem, a universal problem, it is even a cosmic problem, for old stars must also die. The problem is part of the eternal story; off with the old and on with the new; who inherits the magic wand of power? In this case the old is the Goddess Eurynome and the grandchild knocking at her door, Zeus, is the divinity pre-eminant, the herald of our present call to worship. Zeus of the Sky; the young thunder God, Masculine, full of vigor, lusty, dynamic, brilliant, all-knowing, all-wise: a Father God, self-styled creator of the universe.

Reading the myth of Eurynome is a momentary peek at the last fragments of a long forgotten past. There was a time when man honored the inheritance of his Being. The awesome majesty of his very existance, engendered prayer and ritual daily. For him, Creation was just a moment ago and Life a very fragile, precious gift. The forces of the universe were not only contemplated, they were given Life and form, named and honoured, propitiated and entreated. They ruled the very fabric of early man’s existance and his place in the nature of things.

This very mystery of Being was enshrined in the symbol of The Mother Goddess. Long before the nomadic warriors swept down from the sky with their pantheon of Sky Gods, The Goddess had been the ruling face of the divine. As Buffie Johnson points out in Lady of the Beasts, it was absolutely clear why early man gave Creation a Feminine bias:

Explanations for the mysteries of life and death often included the idea of a supreme being, one who might govern both birth and death. This supreme being was logically female; if one looked at nature, it was clear that the power over birth, human and animal, belonged to the female. By extension therefore, the goddess controlled birth and fertility on a larger scale. Thus creation myths developed with female deities as those who gave birth to the universe. (124)

For the Pelasgians of Northern Greece, Eurynome was the tribal face of such a diety. The very telling of her story on starry nights in woods on the edge of neverland would recall the moment when all began. It was the Birth of Life, the beginning of her story. And in the beginning, Eurynome, source of the story, rose naked out of Chaos, reminding us of the vision of Aphrodite rising out of the foam. Birth and rebirth. The old and the new.

With the invasions of the warlike barbarians, the play was recast and roles were rewritten to serve a higher Truth. Lost Goddesses of Ancient Greece explores the expression of all the old forms of The Mother, in many of her familiar mythical guises. According to Charlene Spretnak:

Strains of the earlier tradition are evident in the later myths, which reflect the cultural amalgamation of three waves of barbarian invaders, the Ionians, the Achaeans, and finally the Dorians, who moved into Greece from 2500 to 1000 B.C. These invaders brought with them a patriarchal social order and their thunderbolt God, Zeus. What they found when they entered Greece was a firmly rooted religion of Goddess worship. (17)

Unlike their semitic neighbors, the Greek invaders had not opted for monotherism. Like Yahwah, his counterpart, Zeus was young, aggressive, all powerful; but in Greek Mythology this young God was also extremely potent, giving the modern phrase “stud muffin” new meaning. Whereas the young El remained emasculate, the end of the line, no progeny, no future; Zeus fathers a dynasty and this basic difference in the face of the divine as it wrests power from the old Mother will determine how the old Mother is reintegrated into the new myth.

In the Hebrew myth, there is no room for MOM. Here, in Greek myth, MOM is given a back seat, retired, sent off to the Olympic Home for Seniors. As Baring and Cashford point out in The Myth of the Goddess, in the beginning her relationship went from Supreme divinity to Mother sharing her domain in a Mother / Son – Lover relationship. In that capacity she often served to guide, offering wisdom, or as they put it:

The hero becomes the son-lover who can accomplish his task only with the help of his ‘mother’, the goddess, who in many tales becomes his bride. In Medea, Ariadne, Athena and also Penelope, who nightly unweaves what she has woven by day, the lineaments of the ancient goddess are revealed. These female figures personify the older layers of consciouness that have to be sought out by the hero, who cannot reach his goal without them. Where the image of the feminine is dramatized only as evil, as in the Old Testament, the transforming power of the wisdom stored in the archaic experience of the psyche – the ‘mother’ – is unavailable, and the ‘hero-son’ is left without guidance or inspiration. Only his fragile rationality remains to confront the terrifying image of the father who demands to be obeyed. The natural response to this image of the father who demands to be obeyed. The natural response to this image is fear, which obstructs understanding and change. (296)

In the Pelagasian myth we are called to witness primal rumblings, the Mother / Son-Lover relationship explaining the birth of Life itself, the creation of the cosmic dance. For it really doesn’t matter whether we read Eurynome, Gaea, Nox, Thetis, Tethys or Aphrodite as THE MOTHER. All represent some aspect of her primal nature. Each is just a mirror of Life’s possibilites for as Charlene Spretnak writes in Lost Goddesses of Early Greece:

The Great Goddess was known by many names in many cultures. At various sites of her worship, certain attributes were stressed. Because the traits that were emphasized came to be associated with the local name for the Goddess – and may have been inspired by a particular woman – any erivative forms evolved. The seeming multiplicity of deities is misleading since each was a facet of the one, omnipotent Goddess. Eventually, some of the Goddesses reproduced, always parthenogenetically in prepatriarchal mythology. If the child was a daughter, she joined her mother in administering supernatural powers. If the child was a son, he became his mother’s lover and held a subordinate role in the mythology. In graphic representations the son/lover is always pictured as being smaller than the Goddess and is usually in the background. The original perception of the Goddess as the parthenogenetic source of life was still held sacred long after certain biological facts were recognized among her worshippers. (20)

One of the oldest sources of Greek myth is Hesiod’s Theogony. Here, Eurynome is represented by broad-bosomed Earth. The tale is universal, the characters reminiscent of others:

Chaos was first of all, but next appeared
Broad-bosomed Earth, sure standing place for all
The gods who live on snowy Olympus’ peak,
And misty Tartarus, in a recess
Of broad-pathed earth, and Love, most beautiful
Of all the deathless gods, He makes men weak,
He overpowers the clever mind, and tames
The spirit in the breasts of men and gods.
From Chaos came black Night and Erebos.
And Night in turn gave birth to Day and Space
Whom she conceived in love to Erebos.
And Earth bore starry Heaven, first, to be
An equal to herself, to cover her
All over, and to be a resting -place,
Always secure, for all the blessed gods. (26)
In another translation by Richmond Lattimore, the same fundamental image is named Gaia:
First of all there came Chaos,
and after him came
Gaia of the broad breast,
to be the unshakable foundation
of all the immortals who keep the crests
of snowy Olympos,
and Tartaros the foggy in the pit
of the wide-wayed earth,
and Eros, who is love, handsomest among all
the immortals,
who breaks the limbs’ strength,
who in all gods, in all human beings
overpowers the intelligence in the breast,
of all their shrewd planning. (130)

And so as Buffie Johnson concluded, not only do the myths themselves present various names and titles for the original Great Mother…

Scholars do not agree whether the deity, sometimes called “The Goddess of Many Names,” remained a single entity in the minds of the people, or was thought of as numerous individual deities. Possibly the various goddesses functioned as aspects of the same divinity, just as the various animals symbolize different aspects of her powers. The Great Goddess may have united a variety of other sacred beings, such as the Moon Goddess, the Goddess of Death and Transformation, the Earth Mother, and the Mountain Mother. She would likewise be the Lady of the Plants and Mother of the Beasts. (168)

With such overwhelming evidence as to her presence ‘in the beginning’, it would seem impossible to think She was no longer important. It is of course true that her regenerative powers were no longer needed. They had been used by the Gods of the conquering nomads. It is also true that it was difficult to believe in a Goddess who could not protect against such a devastating change to a long-established way of life. And it is definitely true that such a face of the Supreme deity would never have sanctioned the violence and terror perpetrated in Her name by her noms de plume… Anathe, Ishtar, Astarte, Athena, The Goddesses of Eros had become the harbingers of Eris. Aphrodite turned housewife. Hera the Shrew. According to Charlene Spretnak:

There are a number of reasons why this chapter of our cultural history has been “lost.” The most obvious is that the pre-Hellenic myths are the religion of a conquered people, so they were co- opted and replaced for political reasons. Second, pre-Hellenic mythology was an oral tradition, and many of the clues to its nature have been lost over the past 3500 years. Third, a culturally imposed bias among many Victorian and contemporary scholars prevented them from accepting the evidence that deity was originally perceived as female in most areas of the world. (22)

Or looking at it another way, we can see that the myth may have socio-political overtones. Spretnak continues in Lost Goddesses of Early Greece:

As successful conquerors, the invaders blended certain aspects of pre-Hellenic religion, i.e., principally the Goddesses’ names, with their own patriarchal Gods and themes. For example, Hera had long been associated with the “sacred marriage” – the merging of the lunar cow and the solar bull. However, “sacred marriage” is used in Olympian mythology to refer to Hera’s marriage to Zeus. The fact that their union was always a stormy one is thought by many classicists to be a historical reference to the forced merging of the two cultures: Hera is the powerful native queen who is coerced but never subdued by the alien conqueror. (92)

Although Eurynome is a Pelasgian mythic creation, she was adopted into the Olympic Pantheon and enters the evolving myth as a Goddess retired to the sea with her sister Thetis. Here we see her in the role of ‘wise old woman’ helping the young Haephaestus when he is cast out of Olympus. No longer rising naked out of Chaos she is once again submerged in its depths but this time she is chastened by the onset of time. For in a sense, Eurynome, at this stage is an empty nester; no kids at home, conjugal responsibilities over, early widowhood. A familiar story. Neither Maiden nor Mother, she is CRONE, for as Bonnefoy says in Greek and Egyptian Mythologies her marriage was not a happy one and she did not live in the palace happily ever after:

Oceanus and Tethys do not merely define the initial state of the world or the power that presides over its generation. They continue to exist in the organized universe, but are relegated to its borders, driven back to its extreme limits. Moreover, the couple has split up: Oceanus and Tethys no longer sleep together (14.304-6 and 205-7), which is another way of saying that their activity of engendering has now halted and that the cosmos, in the form of a divine society organized under the reign of Zeus, has attained its definitive form and stability. are we to understand by this that the primordial divine couple no longer has anything to do, that its presence on the borders of the world serves only to evoke the memory of a bygone time? (67)

No, there was no happy ever after, in fact, just the opposite occurred. Whether as Tethys and Oceanus, Eurynome and Ophion or Gaia and Uranus, the primal couple split. There was no longer to be a dance; death to the old Father so that the young son might be empowered. The transfer of divine right ensured by violence had tipped the face of the divine away from The Mother. According to Bonnefoy:

Through Kronos’s transgression – a transgression that places rebellion and disorder at the foundation of order – the children of Night spread even into the divine world; responding to a need for vengeance, they deliver that world, still in gestation, to war and combat, trickery and deception. (74)

This very act of destruction sets forth a new moral code, a metaphor we see re-enacted today. Having permitted violence in the name of man, having usurped Mother Nature’s right to Chaos, we have given the power of Nature over to the whim of the Sky Father and the Sky Father has not done well with it. From Greek and Egyptian Mythologies:

Nevertheless, this liberating act is at the same time a terrible infamy, a rebellion against the Sky- Father. It is as if the cosmic order, with his hierarchies of power and the differentiations of competence among the gods, could only be instituted by means of a guilty act of violence, a treacherous trick for whih a price wuld have to be paid. The mutilated, rejected, and impotent Ouranos brings down a curse upon his sons that institutes for all time the lex talionis from which Kronos, who has become the lord of the sky by virtue of his cunning audacity, will be the first to suffer. War, violence, and deception all enter onto the scene of the world with the slash of Krono’s blade. (73)

But as Bonnefoy also points out, the myth is not without its redemptive vision. For the death of the Son / Lover, the Mother’s consort not only engenders a call to WAR; it also engenders the call to LOVE. For the death of Uranus in Olympian myth leads also to the birth of Aphrodite. And if Aphrodite were to look back she might see Eurynome as ‘one of my past lives’; there is a thread between these goddesses, archtypes of the primal MOTHER.

For the Greeks, it was not possible to remove MOM out of the myth of creation and so they rewrote the story. Updating Her, they kept her chthonic heritage but gave to her a new and separate regenerative aspect. As Bonnefoy comments:

The castration of Ouranos thus engenders, on Earth and in the Ocean, two sets of consequences which are inseparable in their opposition. On the one hand, violence, hatred, war; on the other, sweetness, harmony, love. This necessary complementarity of the powers of conflict and the powers of unity, both issued from the sexual organ of Ouranos, first makes its mark in the system of the procreations inauguarated by the mutiliation of the god. When Ouranos united with Gaea in an indefinitely repeated embrace, the act of love – due to a lack of distance between the partners – resulted in a kind of confusion or identification between them which left no room for any of their progeniture. Henceforth, with Aphrodite, love is accomplished by the union of principles which , even in their coming together, remain distinct and opposed to one another; but they do not fuse. As if quartered, the primordial power of Eros now operates through the differentiation of the sexes. (73)

This was the Pelasgian myth, revisioned by the Olympians for the Olympians were self-serving and like their Hebrew counterparts could not allow the Goddess centre stage. The Eurynome of the North was no longer seen as the fecund Mother Earth; Aphrodite embodied all of that Eros / Mother energy and Eurynome was left to age as Mothers do. Charlene Spretnak reminds us that:

When compared to the religions of the Goddess in Europe and elsewhere, the Judeo-Christian tradition was “born yesterday.” In fact, the very notion of supreme deity, i.e., ultimate power, being male is a relatively recent invention. Zeus first appeared around 2500 B.C., and Abraham, the first patriarch of the Old Testament, is dated by Biblical scholars at 1800 B.C.; in contrast, some of the Goddess statues are dated at 25,000 B.C. Therefore, what we see around us, that is patriarchal religion and social order, is not “the natural order” for all humankind since Day One based on “the Natural Law.”

The new, patriarchal religion co-opted the older mythic symbols and inverted their meaning: The female, Eve, was now weak-willed and treacherous; the sacred bough was now forbidden; and the serpent, symbol of regeneration and renewal with its shedding skins, was now the embodiment of evil. The Goddess religion and its “pagan” worshippers were brutally destroyed in the Biblical lands, just as they had been conquered, co-opted, and destroyed in Old Europe, the Middle East, and India by Indo-European invaders. (26)

These new patriarchal religions were also indicative of the change in consciousness occurring throughout Bronze and Iron Age civilizations. Nature was no longer so uncivilized. The invention of agriculture had been man’s triumph, and order, justice, and law were now rising concerns of the displaced hunters turned warriors. Consciouness was shifting from a Maternal Agrarian mythopoetic base to a highly spirited Patriarchal vision of Life. Whereas Life had been seen as part of a whole, the birth of the Son – Lover had announced a new consciouness; it was the beginning of distinction, of preference, or as James Hillman might see it, the myth announces the divergence of spirit and soul.

Psychologically, and from a Jungian perspective, it might be said that the separation of heaven and earth, the divorce of Eurynome from Ophion is the triumph of Apollo over Gaia for the oracle at Delphi. For Apollo is the world of spirit, and Gaia the world of soul, and with his triumph, wisdom rules from the head and not from the heart. Hillman provides us with one of the most inciteful glimpses into the realm of spirit in Blue Fire. Here in this anthology he explores the cosmic dance through Eros and Psyche and as he says, the world of Spirit is not the world of Psyche:

The world of spirit is different indeed. Its images blaze with light, there is fire, wind, sperm. Spirit is fast, and it quickens what it touches. Its direction is vertical and ascending; it is arrow straight, knife sharp, powder dry, and phallic. It is masculine, the active principle , making forms, order, and clear distinctions. Although there are many spirits, and many kinds of spirit, more and more the notion of spirit has come to be carried by the Appollonian archetype, the sublimations of higher and abstract disciplines, the intellectual mind, refinements, and purifications.

We can experience soul and spirit interacting. At moments of itellectual concentration or transcendental meditation, soul invades with natural urges, memories, fantasies, and fears. at times of new psychological insights or experiences, spirit would quickly extract a meaning, put them into action, conceptualize thim into rules. Soul sticks to the realm of experience and to reflections within experience. It moves indirectly in circular reasonings, where retreats are as important as advances, prefering labyrinths and corners, giving a metaphorical sense to life though such words as close, near, slow, and deep. Soul involves us in the pack and welter of phenomena and the flow of impressions. It is the “patient” part of us. Soul is vulnerable and suffers; it is passive and remembers. It is water to the spirit’s fire, like a mermid who beckons the heroic spirit into the depths of passions to extinguish its certainy. Soul is imagination, a cavernous treasury – to use an image from St. Augustine – a confusion and richness, both. Whereas spirit chooses the better part and seeks to make all one. Look up, says spirit, gain distance; there is something beyond and above, and what is above is always, and always superior. (122)

And it is this loss, this abstraction of soul out of the story, that calls to us today. Inspiration without imagination is not enough. For air must have fire to move it about, soul and spirit must marry. Whenever there is spirit without soul, there is as Hillman adds the dilema of dispassionate intellect or as he puts it:

They differ in another way: spirit is after ultimates and it travels by means of a via negativa. “Neti, neti,” it says, “not this, not that.” Strait is the gate and only first or last things will do. Soul replies by saying, “Yes, this too has place, may find its archetypal significance, belongs in a myth.” The cooking vessel of the soul takes in everything, everything can become soul; and by taking into its imagination any and all events, psychic space grows. (123)

And it is this psychic space that we are after for we cannot go back, the way forward is clear. It must be to an enlarged view of Life. In that sense, it must include the past for an enlarged view of Life. Life must be allowed its cycles of abundance and decay: we can not stop the wheel. It leads right back to The Mother of All Things. Life must be allowed.

The Myth of Eurynome reminds us that our imaginations will sink slowly into our childhood memories if we do not honor their origins. A divine gift from the Great Mother herself our cosmic link to immortality, we must keep the image of the Great Mother alive, we must honor any of her faces as just one of the many; understand that a Mother of great age carries great wisdom.

There is nothing quite like the fleeting momentary kiss of the Beloved and here in the myth of Eurynome, as the old Goddesses never die one can feel all the primal tensions. The myth explores the core of the eternal dance between all that oppose each other, light and dark, good and evil, peace and war. I and Thou, young and old. But it is not possible to remain in the past and so we must not idealize Eurynome: she too must have her life. For as Ann Barstow points out in The Book of the Goddess:

I know what I felt when I first saw the ruins of a shrine at Catal Huyuk: the goddess figure above the rows of breasts and bull’s horns, her legs stretched wide, giving birth, was a symbol of life and creativity such as I had not seen in the Western church. But fertility symbols are no longer a sufficient image for twentieth-century women, just as the agicultural society that produced those symbols no longer relates to our day. (268)

No going back … revisioning perhaps. What must be is an appreciation for what was; cosmic forces, mystery beyond explanation, defied and mythified by our ancestors to give meaning to such concepts.

Yesterday’s Goddess is not tomorrow’s spiritual guru. We cannot move back into a land before time, perhaps only forward beyond it – and here we can take the Goddess with us, move Her forward, revision Her into a face of the Feminine more suitable to our present fantasies. The future imago lies deeply in the heart of Eurynome and all her sisters in their many colours, shapes and sizes, for in Her past shall be Her future and in Her future Her Life.

Works Cited

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