Athena Greek Goddess of wisdom, war, the arts, industry, justice and skill, and an important deity in Wicca and Paganism. Athena’s mother was Metis, the goddess of wisdom, and her father was Zeus. When Metis was pregnant, Zeus was afraid that she would bear a son who would be greater than he, so he swallowed Metis.
Inside him, she began to hammer out a helmet for her daughter and make a robe. The hammering gave him a headache. His son Hephaestus, god of thunder and the forge, split his skull open, and out came a fully grown and clothed Athena. Athena’s symbols are the olive tree and the owl.
Owl Faced; Ever Powerful; Hard Bargaining Spirit of the Marketplace; Lady of the Coal Pan
Also known as: Athene; Pallas-Athene
Origin: Probably Libya
Classification: Olympian spirit
At her most primeval, Athena is a snake and owl goddess, creatures profoundly associated with reproduction. (Owls are ancient uterine symbols.) Athena may be the primordial Eye Goddess whose staring eyes appeared throughout the Neolithic world. Her associations with owls, snakes, and pomegranates unite realms of fertility and death.
Snakes and owls are also emblems of another strong-minded independent goddess, Lilith, who reacted to male domination by fleeing from civilization. Athena took the other tack: when she saw the writing on the wall, Athena allied herself with the male principle.
Athena’s origins may lie in the Libyan tradition of the Great Mother who has dominion over life and death. In her earliest Greek incarnations, she retained her associations with women’s mysteries: she was married to Hephaestus, the Smith Lord, gave birth to a serpentine child, and allied herself with serpentine families in Athens.
Eventually she recreated herself as Zeus’ favorite child, born from his head, not a womb. (Another myth suggests that she was found on the shores of North Africa’s Lake Tritonis by three snake priestesses.) She began covering her tracks, destroying all remnants of her past:
• She abandoned the bone flute she invented (a snake charmer’s instrument, too sexually provocative).
• She encouraged Orestes to commit matricide, declaring that she was “always for the father.”
• She eliminated Medusa, Pallas, Arachne, and the Aglaurides and denied her child Erichtonios.
Athena and Poseidon vied to be presiding spirit of Athens. The vote split along gender lines: men voted for Poseidon; women for Athena. There were more women and Athena won. The result, allegedly to appease Poseidon’s wrath, was a triple punishment imposed on Athenian women: they lost their right to vote; children were no longer called by their mother’s name as they were previously, but by their father’s; and women were no longer considered Athenian citizens: only men.
Emphasis on Athena’s physical virginity became absolute. (This may be understood in the context of her role as a war goddess: virgins were perceived as fonts of concentrated, suppressed potential energy ready to explode with the energy of an atom bomb. Sexual relations would dissipate and redirect this esoteric energy.)
According to Olympian myth, Athena was born in full battle gear, armed and ready to fight. Her birth triggered earthquakes and tidal waves. Hesiod describes her as “a Goddess Queen who delights in war cries, onslaughts, and battles.” Hephaestus served as the midwife who birthed her using a smith’s hammer as an obstetric tool. Athena was sent to a foundry in North Africa to be raised by a Cyclops.
Athena is a goddess of crafts but not just any crafts. She presides over smithcraft, metal-working, and traditional “women’s work,” like spinning, weaving, and wool working, all traditionally also mystical arts.
Athena is petitioned for virtually anything. She becomes profoundly attached to people, especially heroic, clever men. If she loves you, she will protect you like a mother. Athena protects weddings, brides, and grooms and secures conception. She is the matron of shipbuilders. She is the only one, other than Zeus, who knows where he hides his lightning bolts and the only other spirit empowered to use them.
She is a reasonably gregarious spirit, historically venerated beside Zeus, Hera, and Hephaestus. (Her image was traditionally placed in the secondary position in Temples of Hephaestus.) Athena has a tenuous relationship with Aphrodite and can’t stand Ares. They should be kept apart.
Manifestations: She is a beautiful woman with grey eyes. She also manifests as an owl. Athena appeared on the battlefield as an owl during Greece’s war with Persia.
Iconography: An armed, helmeted woman wearing the Gorgon’s head on her breast
Attributes: Spear, lance, bridle, spindle, distaff; Gorgon’s head or a Gorgon mask; loom, metal-working, or other artisanal tools; grave digger’s tools; lightning bolt
Athena and Neith, another spinning goddess, are believed linked although the connections between them are subject for debate. Both derive from Libya, ancient stronghold of women’s Mystery traditions. Some believe Neith, an incredibly primeval deity, crossed the Mediterranean and transformed into Athena. Alternatively, Neith and Athena once formed a trinity with Medusa.
Numbers: 3, 7
Day: She celebrates her birthday on the third day of every month. Alternatively it is celebrated on the first day of the dark moon.
Trees: Olive, oak, willow, pear, pomegranate
Bird: Owl, carrion crow, vulture, sea eagle, swallow dove
Animals: Snake, spider, wolf, dog, horse, lion, goat, sheep, griffin, sphinx
Altar: Reproductions of her ancient votive images are readily available, as are new interpretations. The Queen of Spades playing card is also used to represent Athena.
Rituals: Her ancient statues were bathed in river water. Priestesses in some of her shrines were night owls: all responsibilities were carried out at night.
Sacred site: Athens is her city. Center of her veneration was the Parthenon built on the Acropolis circa 447 BCE. Her votive statue was thirty-nine feet (twelve meters) high and wore clothing woven by Athenian women. A Roman Emperor stole the statue in the fifth century CE; its whereabouts are unknown. It has never been found. Nashville has a full-scale replica of the Parthenon complete with Athena’s statue.
Offerings: Incense; candles; the fruits of your labor and creativity; images of owls, spiders, and ships; young Athenian women once offered Athena sacrifices of their own hair curled around spindle whorls.
See also: Aglaurides; Aglauros; Alastor; Aphrodite; Arachne; Ares; Artemis; Erichtonios; Erinyes; Gorgon; Hephaestus; Hera; Iodama; Medusa; Metis; Neith; Pallas; Poseidon; Prometheus; Sphinx; Zeus
From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.
You may be also interested in :
Back to Greek Gods and Goddesses
Back to European Gods and Goddesses
Back to Gods and Goddesses