- The latest comic book superhero is a Muslim woman. (NPR)
- Some new poems by Sappho have been found. Scholars are tentatively calling it “Lesbos: Poems Under Siege” or “Sappho 2: Electric Boogaloo.” (Daily Beast)
- Here’s what those old-timey alchemists might have been looking at. (BoingBoing)
- Marco Pasi brings you this webinar on Austrian novelist (and occultist!) Gustav Meyrink. (BPH)
- And Dan Brown visits the Ritman Library, where he finds the lost symbol and breaks the DaVinci code. (BPH)
- One parent is told her child should change faiths if he wants to fit in at school. (The Wild Hunt)
- And then the ACLU filed a lawsuit. (Shambhala Sun)
- Pope Francis is sometimes called a rock star, but how does he stack up against Led Zeppelin? (Killing the Buddha)
- And in the wake of Pigeon-gate, one scholar weighs in on the Roman practice of augury, or divination by the flight of birds. (PhDiva)
- The AAR’s call for papers includes one for Contemporary Pagan Studies. (LFHC)
- David Shoemaker will present a series of lectures in March at the William Blake Lodge. Come for the sex magick, stay for the luau. (WBOTO via @Frater_Puck)
- A lot of us owe a spiritual debt to Donald Michael Kraig, so let’s send him some good vibes as he fights cancer. (The Wild Hunt)
- Finally, the Super Bowl is this weekend, where God will choose one team to win, granting them endless touchdowns, while Satan leads the looser astray by causing them to fumble their passes. Or at least that’s what 50% of Americans think. Either that or that their favourite team has been cursed. Go Bears. (PRRI via @TeemuTaira)
Photo by Sébastien Gagnon.
Sex. Birds do it. Bees do it. Some claim it’s a biological imperative, or that it should only take place in certain contexts (between a woman and a man, or within the bounds of marriage, or if you are in luuuve). Others just want to get their rocks off—Wham! Bam! Thank you Ma’am! (Or, uh, Sir. Or both.)
Even Greek gods and Goddesses aren’t immune to physical passions. Duh. We all know about Zeus’ exploits with mortal women. As a god. As a swan. As a bull. Dude gets around. (And has a funny way of luring the ladies, but let’s not get into that. Keep it consensual, people!).
But today I want to talk about Aphrodite, the queen bee of love. In the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, the goddess is a bit of a trickster who compels the gods to mingle with mortals. To get even, Zeus gives her a taste of her own medicine, making her fall for the carefree, guitar-playing Anchises, a cattle herder in Troy. To make a long story short, there’s lust, and subterfuge, and an awkward day after.
So what’s so interesting about all this? Two things: One, in order to snag Anchises, Aphrodite has to hide her goddess-ness. Two: Sleeping with a goddess can get you into some real trouble.
When Anchises first meets Aphrodite, he thinks she’s a goddess. But Aphrodite, who has shrunk herself down to the size of a mortal, denies this and tells some cockamamie story about being a simple girl who was stolen by Hermes and brought to Anchises. This being ancient Greece, Anchises accepts this perfectly plausible explanation, and basically says he needs to have sex with her ASAP. (Though he does so in a very poetic way. Take note, fellas.)
Having left his cows in the pasture, he whisks Aphrodite to his home. Some steamy—yet questionable!—stuff ensues. I’ll share it with you:
οἳ δ᾽ ἐπεὶ οὖν λεχέων εὐποιήτων ἐπέβησαν,
κόσμον μέν οἱ πρῶτον ἀπὸ χροὸς εἷλε φαεινόν,
πόρπας τε γναμπτάς θ᾽ ἕλικας κάλυκάς τε καὶ ὅρμους.
λῦσε δέ οἱ ζώνην ἰδὲ εἵματα σιγαλόεντα
ἔκδυε καὶ κατέθηκεν ἐπὶ θρόνου ἀργυροήλου
Ἀγχίσης: ὃ δ᾽ ἔπειτα θεῶν ἰότητι καὶ αἴσῃ
ἀθανάτῃ παρέλεκτο θεᾷ βροτός, οὐ σάφα εἰδώς.
And when they went to his well-appointed bed, he took first from her body the shining jewelry—the curved broaches and the twisted flower-buds and her necklaces. And he loosened her girdle and stripped off her shining garments. And Anchises placed them upon the silver-studded chair. And then he, by the will of the gods and by immortal decree, laid beside the goddess as a mortal…he was not seeing clearly.
Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, 161-167 (Translation mine)
Damn, that’s hot! Also—Duhn! Duhn! Duhn!—Anchises mistakenly slept with a goddess. If he had seen clearly, the passage implies, he would have known better.
But Anchises knows ignorance is bliss and passes into a deep sleep. Dude sleeps all afternoon while the other herdsmen are working. Who knows what happened to his cows. Maybe they ran away. Maybe they didn’t. The poem doesn’t tell us much with regards to this. What we do know is that—Duhn! Duhn! Duhn!—Aphrodite’s mortal shape wears off and she becomes a giant goddess again. At this point, she wakes up Anchises and demands to know if he thinks she’s fat. Ok, well, not exactly. But sort of. She inquires if she looks like the same kind of person he is. Spoiler alert: She doesn’t.
And Anchises knows he’s in trouble.
Here’s the deal: Dudes who sleep with goddesses don’t fare well. Whereas the women who consort with gods give birth to heroes, the men who bed goddesses meet with misfortune. And Anchises totally knows this. This is what he says:
αὐτίκα σ᾽ ὡς τὰ πρῶτα, θεά, ἴδον ὀφθαλμοῖσιν,
ἔγνων ὡς θεὸς ἦσθα: σὺ δ᾽ οὐ νημερτὲς ἔειπες.
ἀλλά σε πρὸς Ζηνὸς γουνάζομαι αἰγιόχοιο,
μή με ζῶντ᾽ ἀμενηνὸν ἐν ἀνθρώποισιν ἐάσῃς
ναίειν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐλέαιρ᾽: ἐπεὶ οὐ βιοθάλμιος ἀνὴρ
γίγνεται, ὅς τε θεαῖς εὐνάζεται ἀθανάτῃσι.
Immediately, from the first moments that I saw you with my eyes, Goddess, I recognized that you were a god—but you did not speak truly! But I entreat you, in the name of aegis-bearing Zeus, may you not allow me to live feebly among men, but take pity on me, since a man does not become strong who makes love with the immortal goddesses.
Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, 185-190 (Translation mine)
Beyond Anchises anxiety, we also see here a distinct gendering of sexuality. In a note to this passage, Nicholas Richardson observes a handful of cases where the men who mate with immortal women meet with doom. Those who do so are stuck with impotence, or even death. Richardson observes that Odysseus fears he will lack, uh, vitality if he sleeps with Circe. And we have hints of that here, with the reference to physical strength and weakness. Impotence is bad enough, but there’s also the threat of death. Orion (who slept with Dawn) and Iasion (who bedded Demeter) are two examples of this latter consequence. As Richardson observes, “The idea that those who openly marry goddesses do not have a long or happy life is expressed by Calypso [in the Odyssey] in the complaint at the jealousy of the gods, who begrudge men such fortune” (243). In general, the gods get to sleep with whomever they want; the goddesses, however, spread woe when they hunker down with a human. The distinction is obviously cut along the line of gender.
We saw this portrayal of the murderous (and sexy!) woman earlier with regards to prostitutes, poisons and the patrons who love them. This depiction is further borne out by these tales of the goddesses and their relations with men. It is interesting to note that Anchises additionally is deceived in this story; he loses his agency to the temptation of a duplicitous woman. Like similar ancient portrayals, ladies will do nothing but lie to you and bring you trouble. Even the ones who are goddesses.
Women, they can’t get a break even when they’re superior beings!
Anyway, no wonder Anchises is concerned. Lucky for our cattle-herder, Aphrodite assures him that he won’t suffer because of their liaison. She promises to bear him a most-heroic child, and then leaves. Sort of. She says he’ll be struck with lightning if he tells anyone who the mother of his child is. In other versions of this story, that is exactly what happens: he is struck by lightning, made lame, or even killed for his afternoon with a goddess (Richardson 243). But here everything works out fine.
The Homeric poems date to around 700 BCE, and thus are among the earlier examples of Greek literature that we have. It is interesting to see such constructions of gender and sexuality embedded in these early works. What’s more, it is interesting to see these negative connotations of female sexuality applied even to those who transcend human parameters—the goddesses themselves. Mortal women may not have gotten a fair shake from the Greeks, but neither did the goddesses. That goddesses specifically bring misfortune to men through the act of sexual intercourse, suggests a negative view of women’s sexuality, one that is tied to tragedy, deception, and the threat of impotence or death for the men who sleep with them.
“Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite”. Ed. Nicholas Richardson. Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics. 2010.
Photo by Novowyr.
- Iraq adds Syriac to its list of official languages. (PaleoJudaica)
- The giant sculpture of Christ of the Redeemer in Brazil was recently damaged by storms. Here’s a breathtaking look at its restoration. (Hypervocal)
- Vicarious religion is just one model with which to analyze the beliefs of social groups. But, like all things, haters gonna hate. (RSP)
- Liberals say they are more special than those sheeple who go to church. (Religion Dispatches)
- What happened to the Ark of the Covenant? Is it now buried treasure? Probably not. (Live Science)
- The University of Toronto is hosting a series of lectures on religion and culture in the ancient world. Bonus: Jewish angels. (SCRA)
- And here’s a conference on Western Esotericism and Its Scholars, which is organized by some scholars of Western esotericism. (Amsterdam Hermetica via @WJHanegraaff)
- Why Egyptologists need to stop using Budge. (The Seven Worlds via @ARCE-PA)
- Zombies, eating braaaaaains and terrifying people since antiquity. (Graeco Muse)
- Statistics do wonderful things, like prove the veracity of the Icelandic sagas. (ASNØC)
- Finally, everybody freaks out over a questionable tarot reading, but I’d be thrilled if I had this tarot card in my future. Personally, I prefer my trump cards with double mushrooms, but why be picky. (Daily Drawings)
Photo by Susanne Koch.
- York University (in Canada, eh?) accommodates a student who says he can’t work with women based on religious grounds. (Globe and Mail)
- The pope says women can breastfeed in church. Giggity. (CNN)
- Maybe its because some devotional practices involved fondling the virgin mother’s breasts. (Antiquitopia)
- The new Stonehenge visitor’s center gets a resounding “meh.” (BBC)
- Mindfulness is good for some things, bad for others. Namaste. (NYT)
- Can you tell the difference between a cult and a minority religion? (Telegraph via @ProjectRS)
- After Satanists propose a monument in Oklahoma, some are asking whether or not the
Church of SatanSatanic Temple is sincere. (Religion Dispatches)
- And Peter Berger weighs-in on contemporary Satanism. (The American Interest)
- The revelatory imperative of Mormon polygamy. (Three Principle Rounds)
- Meet Dr. Jenny Butler, a scholar who studies Irish Paganism. (Albion Calling)
- The AAR’s Western Esotericism Group wants papers. (AAR via @mjdillon13)
- The Looking Through the Occult conference posted audio files of its lectures. (LTOC)
- Will Paganism suffer as it becomes an institutionalized religion? (The Wild Hunt)
- Finally, audio purists not satisfied with dodgy mp3 downloads of Aleister Crowley’s Enochian calls can now enjoy the dulcet tones of the Great Beast on vinyl for the first time since 1984. Reviews are mixed about the new release, as critics say Crowley has loads of innate talent, but overreaches on occasion and gets a little pitchy in the Second Aethyr. (Boing Boing)
Photo by thaths.
- Christians are mad at Beyoncé. (Charisma News)
- Some good advice for avoiding academic burnout. (Scientific American)
- Religious fundamentalism is on the decline. (Salon)
- Unless you’re the Church of Satan. (CNN)
- Can older traditions still be accurately categorized as New Religious Movements? (Religion in American History)
- A photographic look at how various faiths celebrate their traditions. (NYT)
- The Egyptian goddess Mut had a personal beer maker. Here’s his tomb. (Egyptiana Emporium)
- And maybe now is a good time to grab a pint and read this introduction to Egyptian funerary mythology. (Graeco Muse)
- Want to go further? Here are a bunch of digitized Egyptology books. You’re welcome. (UofM)
- Are you in England and pissed you can’t get read esoteric websites anymore? Well, you can with this work-around. (Augoeides)
- Alchemy, history and religion. (Forbidden Histories)
- Finally, London’s premier atheist church recently underwent its first schism. Patrons cite ideological differences for the split, saying that it was just too difficult for everyone to agree on the appropriate foam content of a venti double-shot, no-whip latte; or why they were even meeting in the first place since everyone is an atheist. (CNN)
Photo by quinn.anya.
- The top 10 Biblical references in rap. (Rap Genius via RNS)
- From the other end of the musical spectrum: The infernal origins of Hall & Oates. (Salon)
- The SBL seeks paper proposals from academic bloggers. Abstracts should be 300 words or less and in leetspeak. (Exploring Our Matrix)
- Two words: Muslim hipsters. (NPR)
- A town in England revives the practice of neolithic burial mounds, complete with a mead-drinking ceremony. (BBC)
- And the British Museum re-discovers a Viking witch’s wand. (Daily Mail)
- How cool is this? A secret campaign to save war-torn Mali’s medieval manuscripts, which represent a golden age of Islamic thought. (Smithsonian)
- Well, duh: Sexy people are into the Occult. (Ultraculture)
- Did hallucinogenic drugs influence some of the world’s major religions? (Atlantic)
- Drugs or no drugs, traditions are so powerful that even atheists need rituals. (Guardian)
- Finally, one Pennsylvania homeowner man recently learned the best way to entice potential buyers was to list his house as “slightly haunted.” Real estate agents say it’s not exactly the best selling feature, but its a step-up from their other more “cozy” listings with loads of “quint charm” and “DIY Appeal.” Socket wrench, ghostbusters not included.(Roadtrippers)
Photo by Wolfram Burner.
Those who study esotericism in North America will will be interested in the upcoming conference of the Association for the Study of Esotericism (ASE). Taking place in June, it’s considered to be the American counterpart to the ESSWE conference, which you no doubt have heard much of here.
I am super-excited from this conference because I will be presenting my first conference paper at the ASE! My research topic will be a bit of a digression from my main squeeze of the ancient world, but it is an interesting one nevertheless. It’s on vampires.
This past semester I took a course on religion and identity in the Balkans. The result was a paper called “The Disenchantment of the Vampire: Balkan Folklore’s Deadly Encounter with Modernity.” In some ways this paper coincided with areas I was already working with: Rhetorical strategies, Orientalism, and occult-y themes. In other ways, it was totally different. Most obviously it was modern and concerned itself with the intersection of Western perceptions of the Balkans and so-called “Modernity.” (I say “so-called Modernity” because this Modernity is a problematic construction that more appropriately describes a specific worldview of a certain portion of society than an all-encompassing evolution of thought.)
In short, I’ll be analysing the cognitive dissonance created by the Balkan vampire on the Western European scientific mindset as “Modernity” emerged. This is depicted here in broad strokes as an interaction between the rational, Modern West and backwards, superstitious East. This weighty topic will be focused through the various representations of the Balkan vampire, and how it changed over time to fit Western prejudices of the Balkan region. I’ll be looking at historical reports of vampirism, literary depictions of vampires, and of course, Dracula.
Velvet suits are optional. Capes are not recommended as this is an academic conference.
I hope to see you there in June!
Photo by CMPhotography.