Mighty Myth Month: Polly put the kettle on.

hestiaHestia is the Greek goddess of hearth and home. While Hera (Roman counterpart, Juno) rules over marriage, childbirth, and family life, Hestia is the happy house-frau, ruling over domestication and household harmony. She never orders take-out or pizza.

Though she has some big-time suitors, she doesn’t marry. She rules over the daily bread, the cooking, and keeping “the home fires buring.”

HESTIA was the virgin goddess of the hearth (both private and municipal) and the home. As the goddess of the family hearth she also presided over the cooking of bread and the preparation of the family meal. Hestia was also the goddess of the sacrificial flame and received a share of every sacrifice to the gods. The cooking of the communal feast of sacrificial meat was naturally a part of her domain.

In myth Hestia was the first born child of Kronos and Rhea who was swallowed by her father at birth. Zeus later forced the old Titan to disgorge Hestia and her siblings. As the first to be swallowed she was also the last to be disgorged, and so was named as both the eldest and youngest of the six Kronides. When the gods Apollon and Poseidon sought for her hand in marriage, Hestia refused and asked Zeus to let her remain an eternalvirgin. He agreed and she took her place at his royal hearth.

Hestia was depicted in Athenian vase painting as a modestly veiled woman sometimes holding a flowered branch (of a chaste tree ?). In classical sculpture she was also veiled, with a kettle as her attribute.

In ancient Roman times, “Vestal Virgins” were priestesses who served the goddess Vesta, the Roman equivalent to Hestia. There weren’t a lot of career options for women back in the day: Be a peasant, a slave, a wife, midwife, or virgin priestess. Think of it as “Limited Choices Barbie.”  

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The Vestal Virgins were venerated priestesses of Vesta (the Roman goddess of the hearth fire) and guardians of the luck of Rome who could intervene on behalf of those in trouble. Originally, there were 2, then 4 (in Plutarch’s time), and then 6 Vestal Virgins.

The first Vestal was takenfrom her parents “as though she had been captured in war,” and led by the hand of the second king of Rome Numa Pompilius (or, possibly, Romulus, the first king and founder of Rome), according to the second century Roman antiquarian Aulus Gellius (A.D. 123-170). Their term as priestesses of the goddess Vesta was 30 years, after which they were free to leave and marry. Most Vestal Virgins preferred to remain single after retirement. Before that, they had to maintain chastity or face a frightening death.

Girls from the ages of 6-10, originally from patrician, and later, from any freeborn family, were eligible to become Vestals (sacerdotes Vestales) provided they met certain criteria assuring their perfection, including being free of bodily imperfection and having living parents. From those offered, the selections were made by lot. In exchange for a commitment of 30 years (10 in training, 10 in service, and 10 training others) and a vow of chastity, Vestals were emancipated, and so, free to administer their own affairs without a guardian (that is, they were free of their father’s potestas), given honor, the right to make a will, luxurious accommodations at state expense, and when they went out, fasces were carried before them. They wore distinctive dress and the hairstyle of a Roman bride.

The Vestals’ chief function was preservation of an undying fire (ignis inextinctus) in the shrine of Vesta, goddess of the hearth, but they had other functions as well. On May 15, the Vestals threw straw figurines (Argei) into the Tiber. At the beginning of the June Vestalia festival, the inner sanctum (penus) of the circular shrine to Vesta, in the forum Romanum, was opened for women to bring offerings; otherwise it was closed to all but the Vestals and the Pontifex Maximus. The Vestals made holy cakes (mola salsa) for the Vestalia, according to ritual prescriptions, from special salt, water and grain. On the last day of the festival, the temple was ritually cleansed. The Vestals also kept wills and participated in ceremonies.

The last known chief Vestal (vestalis maxima) was Coelia Concordia in 380 A.D. The cult ended in 394.

I think the word choice of “cult” is an interesting one; as if women had other options! Sheesh! Sorry, silly girls–you can only opt for a brainwashing than consider this an option for your lives.

I have told this story before, and I will tell it again. Get over it. When I was in second grade, a little boy asked my beloved teacher if she believed in “women’s lib.” (This was 1972, after all.) She said no, because she liked the doors being opened for her.

I am sorry that so many women were so short-sighted that the “door opened for them” was the literal doorway in front of their noses, and not the figurative “door opening” of opportunity. I knew at age 7 that it was about CHOICE.

Now women have the choice to pursue a career or be a “stay at home” parent. But ironically, this choice is somewhat hollow. We all have to work, we all must work and earn an income to maintain the American Dream lifestyle, or even have a remote chance of achieving it.

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I wonder what Betty Draper would say about having to have a career and run a household, too. One of the biggest myths of the 20th century is the one of the “stay at home mom.” Moms have always worked. There was a brief period in the 1950s and 1960s where, after WWII, the men came home and filled the jobs that had been held by women (including professional baseball), and if those men earned a salary that could afford their wives to stay home with the children, then it was expected that those women would, indeed, stay home.

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My great-grandmothers worked, my grandmothers worked, and both my mother and mother-in-law worked (my mom still does). I laugh, with a little edge, over women who pit against each other over whether or not they work or stay home when their children are small. Never trust a woman who says she can’t be friends with another woman, first of all. The real fight was for choice. Now many women who would love nothing more to stay home with their small children can’t afford to because of divorce, or simply the fact that a modest, working class or middle class income can’t support the basic American “fixtures,” such as the rent/mortgage, communication fees (cell phones, phones, Internet providers, etc.) and other commodities that have become staples. Add food to the list.

Don’t misunderstand this; who gets to stay home and who doesn’t is a big issue. Women who have children and want to work, should. Women who have children and want to stay home, should be able to. I cherish the time my husband and I decided to make major life changes (including a move across the country) so I could be home with our baby, and then our second baby. But Fate decided another path, and off to work I went. I feel lucky for the time I had. It was hard, it was often boring, and often very isolating. I tried to join a new playgroup when we moved only to be told it was full. I loved when my older son started kindergarten, and I became an art docent (which led me to a path of teaching).

But this isn’t about my standing on a soap-box and preaching women’s rights. It was intended to be about something that is eternal and important: we need homes, hearths, and heart. We need a center, a family, an anchor to guide us back to our centers. We need mothers, aunties, sisters, and friends to warm us in light, hope, and love. My wish to Hera and Hestia: give mothers the choices they deserve. Create a world where mothers are supported in their care of the world’s children. Give them the creativity and strength if they choose to continue their own pursuits as well. Give respect to mothers who nurture and care, whether they are home all day or not. If we were fighting for equal rights it’s only because it would make us stronger to keep humanity stronger. It is pure, it is good.

Welcome home.

Hug

Mighty Myth Month: Can’t touch this.

There are a few stories that have physicality at their core. What I mean is, the power of “touch.” Or, more often, “don’t touch.” The Gingerbread Man makes his getaway with the taunt, “Run, run, run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!” Well, I don’t want those gumdrop buttons anyway, so keep on going, Mr. Man!

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But perhaps the most famous (or infamous) story of all is the story of King Midas. See, he was this king who liked to have fun, and in order to do so, he spent time with some “fun” friends. But this is a definitely a case of “be careful what you wish for,” because he was given wishes, and he used one of those to wish for the power of unlimited wealth.Whatever he touched would turn to gold. Real, pure gold. This probably seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, but it was conceived way too impulsively. He must have thought he found a loophole in the wishing game, like wishing for more wishes, etc. But we know there are wishing rules that can’t be broken. Or even bent. There are rules, dang it!

So, he goes around, touching everything, turning it all into gold – GOLD! But he discovered a terrible price for his greed: his food and drink would turn to gold, so no tasty snacks.  And when his little daughter ran into the room to hug him…well, you guessed it.

From Myth Man: Alarmed at his predicament, his beloved daughter ran to hug and comfort him, but as he wrapped his arms around her, she instantly turned into a golden statue. That’s when King Midas realized the severity of his mistake and, hungry, thirsty and heartbroken, he begged Dionysus to release him of his burden.

Dionysus couldn’t help but be entertained and amused by the tribulations of King Midas…The merciful god of wine knew that the King had learned his lesson, so laughing he told Midas to travel to the source of the river Pactolus and to plunge his head and body in, rinsing off his “golden touch” in the waters. Dionysus instructed King Midas to also wash off his daughter in the same river, thus restoring her back to her living human form.

To this day the sands of the river Pactolus are bright with gold, to commemorate King Midas and his Golden Touch. As for the King, now a little bit wiser, he realized that there is much more to life than wealth and gold…

http://thanasis.com/modern/midas.htm

Illustration by Giovanni Caselli
from
The Age of Fable

Now, I can’t help but think about the “Wall Street Bankers” who seem to have this very same gift. Everything they touch turns to gold. They gain enormous ungodly bank profits, and yet nothing can touch them. Everyone else must go hungry and thirsty,  but they grow ever richer. They seem to live like deities, above everyone else, and instead of a “street” in Manhattan, they must really live on Mt. Olympus. (Coincidentally, there is a legend that the Native Americans who lived on Manhattan “sold” it for a few beads and trinkets; not a good precedent.)

Now, I’m not knocking making an honest buck for honest work. Our intelligence, creativity, strength, and work ethic should be adequately paid. However, sadly, people are greedy. I’m sure these bankers are perfectly nice husbands and fathers, and love their children. And I wonder how they would react if one day, their sons and daughters turned to statues of gold?

Because if this is what greed is, better hand over those gumdrop buttons.

Bankers reading our minds...
Bankers reading our minds...

Mighty Myth Month: No bull?

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For as long as mankind has been trying to distance himself from his natural, woolly, and animalistic nature, he has also been trying to let it out of its cage from time to time. Off leash. Out of the pen.

There are many mythological creatures that are half human, half something animal, vegetable, or mineral, but perhaps none so archetypal as the minotaur: a man’s body with the head of a bull, this is the ultimate macho figure. Bulls represent raw, brute strength. Cows are the docile, grass-chewing milk givers. Bulls are the bad boys, and women love bad boys. I can just envision it now:

Ariadne to Theseus: “Oh, you are so dreamy! Oh, my father never lets me have ANY fun, so will you take me away from here if I help you? You are so-oooo cute!”

Theseus: “Uh, duh, sure, whatever.”

And then she proceeds to save the beefcake Theseus from this:

Minotaur_Gladiator_by_orgo

 

Theseus is the most famous hero of Athens. His mother was Aethra, daughter of King Pittheus of Troezen. His father was either King Aegeus or the Poseidon, the god of the Sea.

King Aegeus was unable to have children from his first two wives. He consulted the Oracle at Delphi for an answer to his problem. Aegeus did not understanding the oracle’s answer which was in the form of a riddle. Aegeus went to the wise King Pittheus to find the understanding. Pittheus understood the riddle but did not reveal it to Aegeus. Instead, he got Aegeus drunk and took him to his daughter Aethra to lay with. That same night, unknown to Aegeus or Pittheus, Poseidon also shared the bed of Aethra.

When Aegeus left, he put a sword and sandals under a rock. He left instructions with Aethra to tell his son about them when he was older. She was to tell him to move the rock and bring the sword and sandals to Athens so Aegeus would recognize his son.

Theseus grew up to be a strong and witty young man. When he was old enough, he attempted to move the stone under which his father had buried the sword. He was unable to move it, so he built a pulley system to lift the rock. With the pulley system, Theseus was able to retrieve the sword and sandals.

He set out for Athens overland. He was advised to take the much safer boat route but refused. Instead, he traveled through the dangerous Isthmus of Corinth. On his journey, he encountered many evil men who preyed on travelers. He defeated them all, making them suffer the same fate they would bestow on their victims. By the time he reached Athens, he was famous for his deeds.

King Aegeus did not yet recognize Theseus as his son, and he was worried that this popular young man might try to steal his throne. To prevent this, he sent Theseus on a mission to kill the Marathonia Bull and bring it back to Athens. Theseus caught the bull and returned it to the king. The king’s wife Medea, who was a sorceresses, recognized Theseus and suggested poisoning the young hero. King Aegeus recognized the sword Theseus was wearing just before the poisoned wine was given to his son. Medea and her son were banished from the kingdom for their part in the plot kill Theseus.

Several years earlier, Crete attacked Athens. To ward off the attack, the Athenians had agreed to pay a yearly tribute of seven boys and girls to feed a Minotaur. The Minotaur was a monster with a head of a bull and body of a man. Theseus offered to be one of the men to be given to the minotaur. When Theseus arrived in Crete, Ariadne, the daughter of the king fell in love with him at first sight. She gave him a sword and spool of string he could use to find his way back out of the labyrinth which the Minotaur lived. Theseus went into the maze and found the Minotaur sleeping near the center. He killed the monster and escaped with the others from Athens.

Theseus, along with hi fellow Athenians and Ariadne, escaped to their ship and headed back to Athens. On their way, they stopped at the island of Dia. Some stories suggest that Theseus abandoned Ariadne on this island. Others say the god Dionysus stole her away. In any case, Theseus headed back to Athens without her.

Theseus had forgotten a promise he had made to his father. The ship carrying the fourteen Athenians always flew a black flag. Theseus had promised his father to change the flag to white on the voyage home if he had survived. Aegeus, seeing the black flag threw himself into the sea, believing that his son had died on his mission. The sea was named the Aegean in his honor.

|Due to his father’s death, Theseus now became the king of Athens. He was credited with moving the government to a democratic style of governing.

Another story for which Theseus was famous was for his attempt to court one of the daughters of Zeus. Theseus set his sights on Helen, a princess of Sparta. Theseus, along with his friend Peirithous, was able to abduct Helen from Sparta when she was only ten years old. In return for his help, Theseus agreed to assist Peirithous to try and court another of Zeus’s daughters Persephone, the queen of the underworld. Theseus and Peirithous entered the underworld on their quest. To their surprise, Hades welcomed them in and asked them to sit down. They found out that Hades had no intention of giving up his queen, whom he had worked so hard to keep. They sat in chairs of forgetfulness and could not escape, being held there by each chair’s powers. It was not until Hercules happened upon them that Theseus was released. Hercules was unable to release Peirithous, and he had to remain in the underworld.

On returning to Athens, Theseus found that the Athenians were angry at him for his abduction of Helen. His throne was assumed by Menestheus and he was no longer welcomed in the city. He found a refuge with King Lycomedes (even thought the king envied Theseus) on the island of Scyras. While walking along a cliff, Lycomedes shoved Theseus off the cliff to his death. According to one legend, the image of Theseus appeared to the Athenians during their victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon (440 B.C.).

 So, what a bunch of bull-oney. The princess saves the prince in this case through her smarts, and what is she left with? A big cow-pie.

Ariadne

Get over him, sweetie. You’re a vegetarian anyway.

Mighty Myth Month: Psyche.

The name “Psyche” means “Soul” and her union with Eros (aka Cupid) tells the story of how Love and Soul came to be together. By the way, this story is Roman, not Greek, but it works just as well with the Greek, so that is how I shall tell it. This myth had an enormous impact on fairy tales for the next couple of thousand years.
Long, long ago a king had three daughters. Psyche, who was the youngest of the three daughters, was so incredibly beautiful that people in her village and outlying areas STOPPED praying to Aphrodite, taking Psyche for the Goddess of Beauty instead. That wasn’t too good, because Aphrodite got mighty pissed off, and when that happens, you don’t want to be on her bad side. She went straight to the source: the innocent Psyche. She grabbed Eros (in this version he is her son) and instructed him to make poor Psyche fall in love with the ugliest man on Earth. Eros, who had done jobs like this on his mother’s behalf before, went down to Earth to find her. But when he did he, too, was stunned by her beauty. He was so stunned that as he lay his golden arrow on her heart, he pricked himself and fell in love with her then and there. He was so in love that he erased all of what he had done to her, and went away.

After a while Aphrodite realized that her darling son hadn’t quite done his job, for Psyche wasn’t falling for anyone, let alone someone hideous. SO Aphrodite sent down a spell of her own on Psyche. As soon as this happened, not another suitor knocked upon their door. Her parents got worried; they wanted their youngest daughter to be a rich noblewoman at least. Psyche’s mother, the queen, went off to the Oracle to hear what was wrong.

“Psyche will never marry a mortal. She shall be given to one who waits for her on yonder mountain; he overcomes Gods and men.”
 

Poor parents, poor Psyche! It seemed that she was destined to marry a monster. No one wanted to let her go. Whether because of her physical beauty or the beauty of her soul, everyone LOVED Psyche. Psyche, however, saw the futility of her situation, and knew that she had angered Aphrodite, however mistakenly. She accepted what the Fates had decreed and told her parents to take her to the mountain and leave her for the beast. After many denials, they finally agreed and most of the country accompanied her to her supposed death. As she watched them leave, her heart cried out in sorrow and though she stayed firm with courage she could not stop the tear from trickling down her cheek. Zephyr, the kindly West Wind, saw her sorrow and bore her away to the valley below the mountain into soft grass in place of the harsh rock of the mountaintop. It was there that she woke.

When she woke, she didn’t see any monster around her but she did see a lush looking forest. Eager for the protection it could offer she went in. As she entered she heard the sound of water and followed it. Deeper and deeper into the forest she went until she found a bright pool with a fountain and beyond it a beautiful palace. Then she heard a voice around her, its speaker invisible, telling Psyche that the palace was hers, and the invisible servants around her were to do her bidding. She was delighted and ran all around the palace finding all sorts of wonderful things waiting for her. At last she was tired and hungry and before she could ask a beautiful breakfast was laid out before her. That evening the palace grew dark and a new voice spoke to her. It was her husband! This voice was kind and loving, and she couldn’t imagine that it was that of a monster. But that didn’t stop her from wanting to see him. She begged him again and again to come in the daylight, but again and again he sadly refused telling her that the day she saw him was the day their happiness came to an end. It was Eros, of course, but he couldn’t tell HER that.

Eros was very kind to Psyche in every way that he could be – giving her invisible servants to wait on her every wish – but he never ever let her see his face, ominously warning her that the day she did it would be over. Psyche, though kind and happy with her mysterious husband, was a woman, and with that came an almost insatiable curiosity (according to the Greeks, and the Christians, and most others). She was afraid that she was married to a monster, and wanted to know his true visage. One night she told him that she missed her family, and could they be allowed to visit her, please? Eros heard the loneliness in her voice and agreed, but he knew that this would be their downfall. When her sisters arrived they were very eager to hear about her new life, and asked all about her husband. But when they heard of her arrangement they laughed at her and told her that they had heard she was married to a dragon that was fattening her up now, but would soon eat her. They urged her to take out the lamp one night and look at him while he slept, carrying a dagger that she might kill him if he was indeed a dragon. At first she held out, remembering the warnings of her husband, but in the end curiosity won out, for she could keep the mocking voices of her sisters from her head.

 

Finally, one night Eros went to sleep as usual, but Psyche remained awake. She took the oil lamp and lit it looking onto his face. Immediately she recognized his godliness and realized what had been going on. She was filled once again with love and contrition and worship, finally knowing who her husband was. But in her shock her hands trembled and she spilled some of the oil onto her lover. Eros awoke and saw the lamp and Psyche’s sorrow and realized what she had done. He gave a cry of grief and then flew out the window. She realized now that she was truly abandoned for as she looked around her the palace had disappeared and she was again in the middle of the wood.

Now begins a different part of the story. Psyche realized what she had done, but she was not about to give up her Love (literally) when she had just truly found it. On her own feet, she traveled to the houses of her sisters, married to their princes, and told the story of her treachery and its penalty. From there she left again, traveling she knew not where, only in search of her husband. At the end of the day she came upon a deserted hall filled with ears of corn and barley and wheat strewn all across the floor. Immediately she began picking up the mess and putting it together in a beautiful and decorative manner, making the deserted hall more like a temple. That is in fact what it was, and as she worked Demeter watched her, smiling at the goodness of her Soul. When Psyche had finished, Demeter appeared before her and said:

Psyche, you are worthy of happiness, and you may yet have it. Go now to the temple of Aphrodite and pray for her forgiveness, perhaps she will reward your patience.
 

Psyche was astonished that such an important goddess would show her favor, and left at once to do her bidding. She went to the temple of Aphrodite and humbly offered her prayer. But the jealous Aphrodite would not look at Psyche and said that if she truly desired repentance for her sins there was work enough. Saying this she led her into a room full of mixed grain, beans and lentils (the food of doves, Aphrodite’s sacred bird), and bade Psyche sort them all into piles before the night was over. There was too much for Psyche to do on her own, but she settled down to do it anyway. As she was working a long train of ants came out of the crack in the wall, and helped her separate the piles. With their help the piles were separated by morning. Aphrodite returned to find the work done, and was even more angry, realizing that her son Eros had helped the girl. But instead of just sending the girl away, Aphrodite gave her some black bread and bade her sleep, saying she would need her wit for her next task. The next morning Psyche awoke to Aphrodite’s impatient waiting.

Go now to yonder grove where the sheep with the Golden Fleece are wont to browse. Bring me a golden lock from every one of them, or you must go your ways and never come back again.

 

Then Aphrodite left her and Psyche prepared to cross the stream to the grove. But as she waded into the water the reeds swayed and the Naiads called out to her:

“Nay, nay, have a care, Psyche. This flock has not the gentle ways of sheep. While the sun burns aloft, they are themselves as fierce as flame; but when the shadows are long, they go to rest and sleep, under the trees; and you may cross the river without fear and pick the Golden Fleece off the briers in the pasture.”

Psyche thanked the nymphs and did as they bade, and when Aphrodite returned Psyche gave her the fleece she had requested. Aphrodite was more enraged than ever, and cursed her son again for his help. This time she turned on Psyche, thrust a small box at her, and told her to descend to Persephone, the cold Queen of the Underworld, and bring back some of her beauty in the box – for Aphrodite was growing tired in tending her son.

 

Poor Psyche, she knew what Aphrodite knew, and that no human could venture to the Underworld and return. And she realized the Eros must have forsaken her, and held no more value to her own life, turning and preparing to make her descent. But as she prepared another voice whispered in her ear – it was Eros, but she did not know – and told her all the ways to avoid the dangers of the Underworld, and warned her also not to open the box once Persephone’s beauty was inside. Psyche did as she was told, and before she knew it she was back in the sunlight on Gaia carrying the box. But as she traveled she thought to herself, Aphrodite does not need the beauty, but how will I please Eros as travel-worn as I am. And so she opened the box.

But the spells of Gods are not meant for mortals and as she opened the box Psyche fell unconscious upon the ground. But Eros had recovered by now and was scouring the countryside for her. Soon he found her, woke her up and bade her return to Aphrodite and wait for him. Happily she did so, while Eros went to Olympus. On Olympus he told the feasting Gods his story, and begged them to appease to angry mother. The Gods, taken with the pure beauty of the tale agreed and summoned Aphrodite, soothing her until she was no longer angry. Then Hermes, the Messenger God, descended to Earth and brought Psyche back with him to Olympus. Once there, the gods bid the shy maiden to take the cup of ambrosia that Hebe held out to her. She took it, and upon drinking it blossomed into the fairest thing you’ve ever seen.

Eros took her in his arms, and from that day on the two were never parted again.

The may be the ultimate romantic love story. We test those we love, and sometimes unintentionally break hearts. We wear masks to protect others, and to protect ourselves. We are jealous. We are forgiving. And we all want to be swept off our feet.