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The Goddess of March
by Rene Wadlow
2009-03-08 09:54:48
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Be ever watchful, wanderer, for the eyes that gaze into yours at the bend of the road may be those of the goddess herself. Oracle at Delphi

March 8 is the International Day of Women and is placed under the sign of the goddess of the month of March — Minerva. Minerva derives her name from the Latin mens (mind), and so she has a special relation to teachers and artists, especially players of a flute. Tradition has it that Minerva is a transformation of an earlier Etruscan and Sabine goddess taken over when Rome was established. She has also taken symbols and meanings from the Greek Athene, especially the owl as a sign of seeing in the dark, what is usually hidden or instinctive. Minerva is she who brings from the darkness into the light.

Minerva symbolized Rome as Athene, Athens. Minerva’s face was put on Roman coins and as such she travelled to the Roman provinces, becoming Britannia in England. She has come down through the centuries as the goddess of learning. In the US Library of Congress Great Hall, she holds a scroll on which are inscribed “Agriculture, Education, Commerce, Government, Economic” — all these are gifts from Wisdom’s store.

Minerva’s essential gift is understanding the relation between mind and matter. Minerva’s owl, creature of the night and symbol of the goddess’s dark and underworld power which see can see at night is also related to the reasonableness of day.

It is this ability to bridge the dark and the light that is so frightening to men. They have in the Middle East and the Westernized world banished the goddesses to be replaced by a less multi-form male god. This is the thesis of Johann Jakob Bachofen, a 19th century Swiss scholar from Basle, working largely alone and drawing on Greek and Roman mythology. He held that the myths showed clearly that there had been an earlier period of social organization that was a matriarchy, a time when society was founded on family, equality and peace whose defining characteristic was love of the mother, and the most heinous crime was matricide.

Then came patriarchy which found the earlier system so intolerable that the memory was repressed to the subconscious where, Bachofen thought, the memories live on in myth and dreams. See: J.J. Bachofen Myth, Religion and Mother Right (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967).

C.J. Jung knew of the work of Bachofen and used some of Bachofen’s reproductions of symbols in his own writing on the feminine — the anima. For Jung, the life energy takes on a myriad of feminine forms: now young, now old, now mother, now maiden, now a good fairy, now a witch, now a saint, now a whore. She draws man into life with her Maya (power of illusion in Hinduism), and as Sophia, she “leads the way to God and assures immortality. She is the archetype of life itself.”

It is this ‘saving role’ of the feminine which makes uneasy the religions whose prophets are all men. In the current, fundamentalist form of Islam, the woman must be covered, isolated, accompanied by a male relative. Women are not the symbol of learning. In fact, they should not go to school at all. These reactions which can take the extreme forms of ‘honor killings’ and the closing of schools for women are a rising tide among the Taliban and others who share the same fears.

These fears have deep causes and are not limited to the Islamic world. To transform fears into rational knowledge is not an easy task, but Minerva in some early representations, had thunderbolts in her hand (a symbol usually associated with Jove.) Thus transformation will not come without conflict. The aims of the International Day of Women were well set out by Bella Abzug, a member of the US Congress and political feminist, in her talk to the UN World Conference on Women (1995)

Change is not about simply mainstreaming women. It’s not about women joining the polluted stream. It’s about cleaning the stream, changing stagnant pools into fresh, flowing waters.

Our struggle is about resisting the slide into a morass of anarchy, violence, intolerance, inequality and injustice.

Our struggle is about reversing the trends of social, economic and ecological crisis. For women in the struggle for equality, there are many paths to the mountain top. Our struggle is about creating sustainable lives and attainable dreams. Our violence is about creating violence-free families. And then, violence-free streets. Then, violence-free borders.

For us to realize our dreams, we must keep our heads in the clouds and our feet on the ground.”


Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

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Emanuel Paparella2009-03-08 16:13:09
Interesting and thought provoking article. It brings one back to Andrew Greely’s concept of the Magna Mater (Minerva) as applying to Mary the mother of Jesus and as elucidated in his book The Mary Myth, On the Feminity of God where he explains how “Mary is part of a magnificent tradition of female deities.” Here is an excerpt from such a book:

“Did there seem to be some similarity between Mary and Diana or Juno or Athene or Aphrodite? The early Christian shrugged his shoulders. So what?
We know very little of the precise history of the transformation of the pagan Queen of Heaven into a Christian Queen of Heaven. It was certainly linked with the decision of the early church to absorb all that was good, useful, and beautiful in paganism... And we do not know precisely how this decision was made either. However, once that was determined, the popularity of the Queen of Heaven was such that she surely was going to emerge in Christian dress.
It might well be argued that the fertility rites prepared the way for Easter, that Nut (the tender Egyptian goddess of the underworld) prepared the way for Mary. Humankind had to know the paschal lamb of the pre-Sinai Semitic tribes and the Passover of Pharisaic Judaism before it could know the risen Jesus of Easter. It had to know the tender Nut and the life-giving Demeter before it could know Mary the virgin mother. Mary, indeed, is part of the tradition of feminine deities... One need only compare the art inspired by Mary with that inspired by her predecessors to see both the similarities..."

AP2009-03-08 17:12:27
Thank you for your insightful article, Mr. Rene.

About the Taliban anti-culture, a good book to read is "The Secret Voice of the Afghan Women" by the Afghan poet Sayd Majrouh, who gathered the chants/screams of Afghan women (landays) - which hide a secret feminine language to express speeches of hate, love, erotism or raillery - and could send them to the West before he was murdered in Pakistan.

Nonetheless, there are different interpretations in Islam, and it is very important to be able to distinguish fundamentalist and radical forms from other mainstream and harmless practices. The education opportunities and possibility to study/interpret the Koran given to Islamic women have been proved effective as well. Interestingly, 4 out of every 5 Western people converting to Islam are women. Here are a few reasons for that, according to themodernreligion.com:

AP2009-03-08 17:35:12
In Buddhism, of course, Dakinis (which also appear in Hinduism and Bön) were very influential wise women, central figures (embodiments of enlightened energy and inspirational thoughtforms, sometimes also responsible for the protection and integrity of oral transmissions) who taught the most important practicioners and Lamas - and their traditional home was Uddiyana, ironically (and not by chance) located in present-day Afghanistan!

AP2009-03-08 17:40:07
ps - another good reason for Western women to be converting to Islam is, I think, that they want to change it from the inside and test its tolerance.

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-09 00:52:37
The issue, I am afraid, is not to join a religion to change it or to convert it to secularism and/or liberalism and modernity from within, but it is the issue of religious freedom in the larger rather than the narrow sense. No European country denies the right of Muslims to believe in and to practice their religion in the narrow sense. Rather the issue is of the place of Islam in the public sphere as Jurgen Habermas has pointed out thus irritating and annoying the secularists. This is an issue that Europeans thought of as settled a long time ago, at least among Christians and Jews. But it is not, and the reason is that secularization has imposed certain rules of the game on religious believers. It all adds up to a bargain of sort: you are completely free to live by your religious in private, but keep it out of the public sphere. Many Muslims are not willing to tolerate this private-public dichotomy and consider it a violation of their personal faith identity. One of the public spheres where the dichotomy has been challenged most fiercily is that of education. It is very intriguing, to me at least, the deafening silence that ensued in the comment section of this magazine after placing this issue on the table as reviewed by Habermas. The thorny issue ultimately revolves around this question: to what extent can a Muslim sub-culture be accepted in a Europe that keeps crying “balkanization” any time a religious faith demands a place in the public sphere; which is to say, is it balkanization from the taken for granted secular social model based on the above dichotomy? So who needs to be converted to religious freedom?

AP2009-03-09 03:00:56
Goodness gracious... there you go, continuing your attack to secularism, using conversion to Islam as an excuse. Actually those numbers of Western women converting to Islam are originally reports from the US.

AP2009-03-09 03:02:17
So there goes your whole extrapolation down the sink...

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-09 06:29:41
Intriguing that balkanization or nationalization of truth; it all depends on where the data is gathered and published? Goodness gracious indeed. Be that as it may, the challenge of Jurgen Habermas, a European philosopher, remains on the table, inadressed. Regarding what you consider attacks on secularism, or what in Europe goes under the name of laicitè, that is similar as perceiving an attack on secular humanism simply for pointing out that there is such a phenomenon as the original humanism and it is different from secular humanism. When the mere mentioning of historical data and facts are perceived as attacks and provokes acerbic ad hominem reactions, one can be fairly sure that an ideology is perceived as being under threat and is being defended. An ideology is always in the realm of assumption and theory and remains open to re-thinking, especially when it has become a sacred cow.

There is a thought provoking and challenging book just out which I highly recommend to all idealogues, religious and anti-religious as the case may be, together with the already examined article by Habermas on Europe post-secularism. It is titled “Religious America, Secular Europe? A Theme and Variations” by Peter Berger, Grace Davie and Effie Fokas, who are not theologians with an ideology to defend but eminent sociologists offering a plethora of data and documentation of such a phenomenon. The editorial house by the way is European: Ashgate of London.

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-09 06:41:11
Here this quote by Pola Manzila Uddin, the first and only Muslim in England to be elected to Parliament, bears repeating: “The almost total denial for decades of our identity based on our faith has been devastating psychologically, socially and culturally and its economic impact has been well demonstrated. For years Britain’s 2 million or so Muslims…have been totally by passed even by the best-intentioned community and race relation initiatives because they have failed to take on board the fact that a major component of their identity is their faith.”

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-09 07:19:32
To better illustrate what was mentioned above about pseudo-toleration on the part of the secular liberals of Europe consider the case of the Rushdie controversy. When Rushdie embraced Islam (see the Guardian of January 17, 1991) and apologized to his co-religionists for any problem that his “Satanic Verses” might have caused them, the secular liberals of Europe could hardly be contained in their indignation. The rather distorted logic seems to be this: Muslims ought to be tolerant of offensive books, but liberals do not have to tolerate a writer that expresses some affinity with Islam. Which is to say, tolerance is conceived as a mere selective social construct, to be applied in some cases but not in others. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2009-03-09 07:19:58
This is especially evident in the Netherlands where there is in place an evident tension between the dominant liberal ultra modern lifestyle and the illiberal policies that are in place to protect it. Anybody else who holds more traditional views are not tolerated, they may be even excluded. So the crucial logical question that begs to be answered is this: to what extent is it possible to protect the values associated with liberalism and modernity by being illiberal? Are the illiberal means justified by the liberal end? Another way of putting it is this: is the intolerant tyranny of the secular, liberal modernist majority justifiable in principle? Is it a mere issue of majority democratic rule or rather the secularist teleological assumption built into theories of modernization that one set of norms is reactionary, fundamentalist, and antimodern, while the other set is progressive, liberal and modern? It appears that simply by being there religious minorities of any religion bring to the attention of Europeans a series of unresolved issues which for centuries have been placed in the realm of the private. To their consternation, the presence of religious minorities brings them back in the public sphere.

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