Please join me in a moment of celebration: I’m now an Initiate of the Order of the White Moon! OWM is a women’s spirituality group that I’ve been studying with since about Samhain. For each level, a final project on a particular goddess is required, and for mine, I chose the goddess Athena as she is represented in the Homeric epics. One of the things I found most fascinating was the way Athena defied the gender expectations of her time.
The overall image of Athena that emerges is composed of a mass of contradictions: she is a virgin who appears and acts in masculine ways, an extremely powerful warrior who disdains fighting for fighting’s sake, and a patroness of cunning who renders judgment based on her own sense of justice, being willing to face down the Furies and deny them vengeance in the process. She is, most of all, a figure of extreme practicality, willing to use appearances to get what she wants, but cutting through what she regards as irrelevant to pursue her own goals with single-minded focus.
Although the Homeric epics do not depict women calling on Athena for their own purposes, she is a figure to whom many women can appeal today, faced as they are with shifting gender boundaries and conflicting messages about appearance and behavior. A woman could call on Athena when she needs to borrow the goddess’ talent for disguise, when she has to cross boundaries and pursue her own goals, and most of all when she is unwilling to be bound by external strictures or expectations about her behavior as a woman.
As I explored Athena’s role in the original sources, I kept being surprised by what I found in stories I thought I knew. Seeing how Athena was incredibly masculine in her roles only reinforces my conviction that gender essentialism should not be part of Wicca, and that women who are trying to imagine some kind of safe space for themselves by emphasizing biology and rejecting trans women are actually building a space that restricts them and denies them the full range of what it can mean to be a woman.
I’ll write a little bit more in the coming week about what OWM’s Level 1 has been like, but for now I’m happy, tired, and can’t wait to start Level 2, so I’d better get going.