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Author Topic: Struggling With Aspects of Greek Culture/Religion  (Read 2730 times)

Nyktelios

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Struggling With Aspects of Greek Culture/Religion
« on: February 03, 2013, 10:06:01 pm »
Long story short, a while ago I had decided to abandon Hellenic religion, as I was more interested in certain Egyptian gods, and felt like my own worldview was more in line with certain kinds of pagan witchcraft in that I think of life as sacred and cyclical, and also that I believe in gender equality and free sexuality. That's simplifying a lot, but let's just go with it. I am drawn to Egyptian gods and culture because it was one of the few cultures, ancient and modern, in which women had pretty much equal legal and social standing. Sexuality was not a problem, and virginity was a non-issue. In contrast, ancient Greek culture  was generally very restrictive of women and female sexuality, though men were free to do what they wanted sexually as long as it didn't infringe on someone else's property.

People may be wondering what this has to do with religion, but I think these attitudes are reflected in religious views, as virginity is sacred to goddesses like Hera and Artemis as a prerequisite of marriage (for women). Greeks also valued virginity as being equivalent to purity in other goddesses, such as Hestia and Athena. Not only that, but many of the male gods assert their dominance by raping (or attempting to rape) mortal women and goddesses, for example, Zeus' countless forced sexual encounters, Poseidon's rape of Medusa, Apollon attempted rape of Daphne, and Hades' abduction of Persephone. I just don't personally find this militantly patriarchal attitude relevant to my spirituality.

Well, that's all well and good, and while I still feel in tune with the Egyptian deities I was following, and the witchy path of liberation and celebration of nature as a manifestation of divinity, I do feel drawn to Greek deities I used to follow, and miss some aspects of my Hellenic practice. The problem is, I don't know how to reconcile that with the rest of my political and spiritual views. I am extremely drawn to Lady Hera, but at the same time, she represents the patriarchal ideal of the chaste wife who is often the recipient of her husband's dominance rather than an independently powerful goddess. Also, when I follow Hera, I feel like I turn into a much haughtier and socially conservative person than I am regularly, so I'm not sure how to handle that. Adopting a more traditional ancient Greek cultural perspective puts me in conflict with my more modern socially progressive views. I don't know if this makes sense to anybody, but that's what I'm struggling with at the moment.
« Last Edit: February 13, 2013, 12:35:26 pm by RandallS »

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Re: Struggling With Aspects of Greek Culture/Religion
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2013, 10:42:48 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;95021

Adopting a more traditional ancient Greek cultural perspective puts me in conflict with my more modern socially progressive views. I don't know if this makes sense to anybody, but that's what I'm struggling with at the moment.

 
It does make sense to me. I only work with Aphrodite, so I don't run into these problems so much. But I see where you are coming from with regards to the other goddesses.

I suppose the thing to keep in mind is that the myths and practices regarding these goddesses were written in (and therefor a product of) the time and society in which the authors and adherents lived. Additionally, these myths and practices were written by humans through their cultural lens, and not necessarily the one true way the Olympian gods can be experienced.

Think about the basic ideas and values the gods you are interested in stand for. Then adapt them to your modern culture.

Hope that helps.

Nachtigall

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Re: Struggling With Aspects of Greek Culture/Religion
« Reply #2 on: February 04, 2013, 05:56:19 am »
Quote from: Carnelian;95021
I am extremely drawn to Lady Hera, but at the same time, she represents the patriarchal ideal of the chaste wife who is often the recipient of her husband's dominance rather than an independently powerful goddess.

 
Do you feel that Hera herself lacks the power, or that married women in general usually do? Do you have problems with virginity only if it's forced on women by the society, or does the idea that it may be sacred for some goddesses (just like "free expression of sexuality" is sacred to others) contradict your personal and political views?

What exactly draws you to Hera? There must be something in her you find attractive to you, despite other issues you've described; I'd suggest try working with this as for now.

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Re: Struggling With Aspects of Greek Culture/Religion
« Reply #3 on: February 04, 2013, 02:01:02 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;95021
I am extremely drawn to Lady Hera, but at the same time, she represents the patriarchal ideal of the chaste wife who is often the recipient of her husband's dominance rather than an independently powerful goddess.


I don't know if this will help you, but this blog has a number of posts on Hera, including a series on Her epithets, which might help you get to know some sides of Her beyond the role of wife.

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Chausette

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Re: Struggling With Aspects of Greek Culture/Religion
« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2013, 10:12:56 am »
Quote from: Carnelian;95021
Long story short, a while ago I had decided to abandon Hellenic religion, as I was more interested in certain Egyptian gods, and felt like my own worldview was more in line with certain kinds of pagan witchcraft in that I think of life as sacred and cyclical, and also that I believe in gender equality and free sexuality. That's simplifying a lot, but let's just go with it. I am drawn to Egyptian gods and culture because it was one of the few cultures, ancient and modern, in which women had pretty much equal legal and social standing. Sexuality was not a problem, and virginity was a non-issue. In contrast, ancient Greek culture  was generally very restrictive of women and female sexuality, though men were free to do what they wanted sexually as long as it didn't infringe on someone else's property.

People may be wondering what this has to do with religion, but I think these attitudes are reflected in religious views, as virginity is sacred to goddesses like Hera and Artemis as a prerequisite of marriage (for women). Greeks also valued virginity as being equivalent to purity in other goddesses, such as Hestia and Athena. Not only that, but many of the male gods assert their dominance by raping (or attempting to rape) mortal women and goddesses, for example, Zeus' countless forced sexual encounters, Poseidon's rape of Medusa, Apollon attempted rape of Daphne, and Hades' abduction of Persephone. I just don't personally find this militantly patriarchal attitude relevant to my spirituality.

Well, that's all well and good, and while I still feel in tune with the Egyptian deities I was following, and the witchy path of liberation and celebration of nature as a manifestation of divinity, I do feel drawn to Greek deities I used to follow, and miss some aspects of my Hellenic practice. The problem is, I don't know how to reconcile that with the rest of my political and spiritual views. I am extremely drawn to Lady Hera, but at the same time, she represents the patriarchal ideal of the chaste wife who is often the recipient of her husband's dominance rather than an independently powerful goddess. Also, when I follow Hera, I feel like I turn into a much haughtier and socially conservative person than I am regularly, so I'm not sure how to handle that. Adopting a more traditional ancient Greek cultural perspective puts me in conflict with my more modern socially progressive views. I don't know if this makes sense to anybody, but that's what I'm struggling with at the moment.

I sometimes struggle with this too, but you have to keep in mind that the myths aren't to be always taken literally. A lot of them are a reflection of their times, and may not properly reflect that deity.

It should also be noted regarding Zeus that what is usually translated as 'rape' in modern texts meant a very different thing in ancient times, and 'abduction' would probably be a more accurate term for it - the Greeks viewed any marriage as an abduction of the girl from her family which, yes, is patriarchal in itself, but not as violent as rape.

Personally, I just take the myths that are meaningful to me and reject the ones that I see as a reflection of their times, either fabrications or only telling part of the story.

Thorn

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Re: Struggling With Aspects of Greek Culture/Religion
« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2013, 01:16:42 pm »
Quote from: Chausette;95191
It should also be noted regarding Zeus that what is usually translated as 'rape' in modern texts meant a very different thing in ancient times, and 'abduction' would probably be a more accurate term for it - the Greeks viewed any marriage as an abduction of the girl from her family which, yes, is patriarchal in itself, but not as violent as rape.

I've also had it suggested to me that, since rape was considered a property crime in the culture (which has issues of its own, of course), its use in the myths might be interpreted as meaning that the pair didn't have her father's permission, whether the woman was willing or not.
 
Mostly, I look at the myths as being written by and for the people of the time, to help them understand the Gods.  If the stories were told for a modern, socially liberal culture they would be very different, but the Gods would still be the same.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2013, 01:17:46 pm by Thorn »
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Caroline

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Re: Struggling With Aspects of Greek Culture/Religion
« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2013, 03:27:53 pm »
Quote from: Chausette;95191
- the Greeks viewed any marriage as an abduction of the girl from her family which, yes, is patriarchal in itself, but not as violent as rape.

I think this is an oversimplification - marriage was contractual, an agreement between father of the bride and groom and betrothals could take place long before the marriage itself. The ceremonies recorded are elaborate, ritualized and essentially signify social sanction of a personal and sexual union, much as many weddings are today. Yes, artistically marriages were signified by a particular grip upon the wrist, clearly echoing the concept of "seizure" and yes, the entire system was patriarchal as all hell. But then the same can be said of modern 'traditional' weddings. (Oaths to obey? "Giving" the bride away? Carrying the her over the threshold? And other more extreme 'traditions' that are still carrying out, all in the name of 'good fun'.)

Yes, 'abduction' is not necessarily equivalent to 'rape' if the abduction is a staged affair. But why the necessity of staging? To preserve the good name of the woman, in most cases. Certainly in humorous romantic plays that would be abhorrent to modern audiences, wherein the hero rapes the heroine so that they can be married and live happily every after - the audience gets the ending they expect and they can still respect the heroine; she's not a wanton; she's the "good girl" they want and expect her to be.

How many modern romance books still embrace this theme, now shifted into the notion of the fated (one true love/mate!!) irresistible (overwhelming personality or vampiric charm) or uncontrollable (except by the heroine) alpha male?

Athenian law was particular twisted about matters of female sexuality - the penalties for rape, for instance, were far less severe than the penalties for seduction. Because, as has been mentioned, rape is a property crime; seduction means that the woman was either influenced or colluded in the sexual act. So if woman was caught with a male lover, declaring rape actually benefited both.

So when looking at myths, how do we decide when it is rape and when it is seduction or arranged abduction? Sometimes it's clear. Sometimes, it's not. Interpreting myths is often a personal call. The ancient world was patriarchal; so is ours. All cultures have problematic myths that reflect that reality. If we look to ancient myth to inform and enrich our modern belief, it's a big question to tackle.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2013, 03:28:33 pm by Caroline »

Caroline

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Re: Struggling With Aspects of Greek Culture/Religion
« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2013, 03:43:26 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;95021
I do feel drawn to Greek deities I used to follow, and miss some aspects of my Hellenic practice. The problem is, I don't know how to reconcile that with the rest of my political and spiritual views. I am extremely drawn to Lady Hera, but at the same time, she represents the patriarchal ideal of the chaste wife who is often the recipient of her husband's dominance rather than an independently powerful goddess. Also, when I follow Hera, I feel like I turn into a much haughtier and socially conservative person than I am regularly, so I'm not sure how to handle that. Adopting a more traditional ancient Greek cultural perspective puts me in conflict with my more modern socially progressive views. I don't know if this makes sense to anybody, but that's what I'm struggling with at the moment.

I so get this - it's something that took me a long time to come to terms with, and something that I did have to deal with before I oathed to my goddesses.

For me, looking at ancient Greek culture informs my religious practice, but doesn't dictate it. I find a reconstructionist approach beyond useful - for me, it's essential to understand as much as I can about how the deities were worshipped by ancient people. But I sure as hell don't want to live in ancient Athens. So my personal approach isn't so much about adopting a traditional or ancient perspective as trying to understand it, and use that to gain a greater understanding of the gods. I find this leads to an orthapraxic rather than orthodoxic approach to personal practice.

In regards to Hera, I think perhaps that you are focusing on a more modern 'traditional' take - and a very narrow one. Hera is much more than 'chaste wife'; I do not see that She represents a patriarchal ideal so much as a woman's (and a Queen, no less) response to it.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2013, 03:44:55 pm by Caroline »

Caroline

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Re: Struggling With Aspects of Greek Culture/Religion
« Reply #8 on: February 05, 2013, 03:47:48 pm »
Quote from: Shefyt;95099
I don't know if this will help you, but this blog has a number of posts on Hera, including a series on Her epithets, which might help you get to know some sides of Her beyond the role of wife.
-Shefyt

 
Thanks for this link - it looks very interesting! (off to read)

Nyktelios

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Re: Struggling With Aspects of Greek Culture/Religion
« Reply #9 on: February 05, 2013, 10:53:30 pm »
Quote from: Nachtigall;95049
Do you feel that Hera herself lacks the power, or that married women in general usually do? Do you have problems with virginity only if it's forced on women by the society, or does the idea that it may be sacred for some goddesses (just like "free expression of sexuality" is sacred to others) contradict your personal and political views?

What exactly draws you to Hera? There must be something in her you find attractive to you, despite other issues you've described; I'd suggest try working with this as for now.

Quote from: Caroline;95224
In regards to Hera, I think perhaps that you are focusing on a more modern 'traditional' take - and a very narrow one. Hera is much more than 'chaste wife'; I do not see that She represents a patriarchal ideal so much as a woman's (and a Queen, no less) response to it.

Thanks to everyone for your responses. I'm replying to the above quotes specifically, but everyone's contributions have been appreciated.

Hera's temple at Olympia is supposed to predate Zeus' by hundreds of years, so I think she is a very important and powerful deity who goes beyond her role in Classical Athenian religion as only the wife of Zeus and goddess of marriage and wedding rites. Many Greek goddesses have origins as extremely important tribal deities, though in the traditional Olympian system, they often have 2-dimensional roles pertaining to marriage and childbirth (or the necessary virginity that precedes those).

I don't have a problem with not being sexual active, but I do struggle with virginity as a concept. People use it to apply to both sexes now, but originally it only applied to women, as they were required to bear legitimate children to their husbands, and their sexual activity before marriage was highly policed. It relates to the idea that women were property, and a woman with sexual experience before marriage was damaged goods and unfit for marriage. I'm very into the work of Dr. Christopher Ryan, whose book "Sex At Dawn" looks at the origins of marriage/monogamy as a very recent development in the history of humanity, as it only emerged (as far as we know) with the advent of agriculture and civilization, which led to property and patriarchy. I struggle with a deity of something like marriage, as it seems to me to be a specifically human construction in opposition to the way we have evolved, not as a universal natural law, and I believe the gods to be immanent in the natural forces of the universe, not so much in institutions that are restrictive of those forces, and human-specific.

I think it does have a lot to do with Classical Athenian culture, when democracy and citizenship were extremely important, so bearing legitimate citizens was a big responsibility for women. There could be no suspicion about the paternity of her children, otherwise it would be impossible to know if they could take part in Athenian democracy.

What draws me to Hera is her regal character, he beauty, and even her haughtiness. While she ws generally considered to be a goddess of marriage, she had other roles such as the personification of the female reproductive principle in nature, along with Zeus, who was the male reproductive principle. She encompassed every phase of the lives of women, and even though she is not typically a goddess of motherhood, her Orphic hymn calls her "Mother of Mortals" and states that she dwells within all of nature (depending on the translation, as I haven't investigated the original Greek). I see her as an all-encompassing deity, much like Aphrodite, with whom she was closely identified, as they share each other's names as epithets. Aphrodite's origins were eastern, and not to be politically incorrect, but her cult had qualities of exotic foreign sensualism, while Hera's cult was native to Greece. I see both of them as personifications of the same divine principle of the great womb who has supreme power over life and death.

I found the worship of Isis helpful in reconciling all this, as she basically encompassed all the Olympian goddesses in one being. It also helps that her cult came out of Egypt, which had a lot more equality for women than Classical Athens (sorry to be so Athens-centric, but it's the most significant source of ancient Greek culture that we have). Honouring Hera actually often makes me interested in similar Egyptian goddesses like Isis and Hathor, as both of them are also associated with royalty, the heavens, and cows as a symbol of fertility and maternity. As you can probably tell, my relationships to my favourite goddesses (Hera, Aphrodite, Isis, and Hathor) are very fluid, and I pretty much see them all as different manifestations of the same divinity. Hera being a native Hellenic deity, Aphrodite a Hellenized West Asian deity, Isis of Lower Egypt, and Hathor of Upper Egypt. It might be controversial among "hard" polytheists, but it's my experience with them.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2013, 11:01:56 pm by Nyktelios »

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