Once Upon a Time: More Gods | 6

If you’ve been reading The Third Eve, you know that I began a series, “Once Upon a Time,” about the gods and goddesses of Greece and Rome, with the intention of writing about Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, which I use in my header and which is rich in symbolism. In Part 5, I wrote about the basic Greek world view in mythological terms, about the world’s beginning, and about the original gods, or Titans: Saturn, Rhea, and Jupiter. We learned that the Greeks, like their Hebrew counterparts, had two creation myths. In the second, Earth and Love (Eros) were the first beings; Eros sprang from the egg of the Night, which floated on Chaos. We’ll want to remember this later when we look at the origins of Venus (Aphrodite), for their origin myths may give us clues about timeless ideas of what it means to be male or female.

If you haven’t kept up with this blog, but are new to it, the series has progressed in this order:

Today I want to wrap up an overview of the gods and goddesses of Greece and Rome and suggest some helpful resources for anyone who wants to delve into this topic more deeply. After today, I’ll be analyzing Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

Saturn, Father of the Titans

One of the Greek creation stories tells how the children of Earth and Heaven, which sprang from Chaos, gave rise to the Titans. The first Titans, Saturn and Rhea, in turn produced Jupiter (Jove, Zeus). Other Titans included males Oceanus, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Ophion; and females Themis, Mnemosyne, and Eurynome. These were the elder gods, who eventually gave way to Jupiter, Neptune, Apollo, and others. Hyperion was the original sun god, father of the Sun, Moon, and Dawn. When he is depicted, he’s quite glorious, and this glory was later bestowed on Apollo.

The Original Eve

In Paradise Lost,Milton referred to the temptation and fall of humanity by referring to Ophion as the serpent and Eurynome as a type of Eve. She certainly is well-represented in ancient cultures as the Great Mother or Great Goddess. Arising from Chaos, it was she who separated the water from the sky, which we see in Genesis was accomplished by G-d (YHWH). The myth of Eurynome pre-dates the most ancient of cultures, including that of the Greeks and Romans, and even her name is not strictly Greek. I find it particularly fascinating that she is water, the deep, the separator, the goddess, and also evidently either arose from water or was goddess over it. After separating the waters and the earth, she danced the world into creation, which is one of the most beautiful creation myths and among my favorite. When she caught the wind, she rubbed it into a serpent, Ophion. And we all know what happened afterward.

Probably most of us who are relatively well-read can see the parallels between this ancient mythology and Biblical accounts of creation and the temptation and fall of humanity. While some might doubt the authority of the Bible as a result–and I think this is why many rigidly superstitious evangelicals ban mythology from their home and private schools–I think that the universality and lasting influence of such symbols support their truth, rather than diminishing it. Whether that truth is literal or symbolic I’ll leave to the reader to decide for him or herself. Suffice to say, I see truth the more I learn about various myths.

I recently heard a Jungian teaching in which the theorist stated that Lucifer (Satan) was the missing fourth member of the quaternity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that Christians had separated him out due to his individuation, which led to evil and darkness. Rather than retain the shadow, as have Hindus, they separate it out and allow only goodness in their religion.

 I disagree with this idea. I think that Eve is the fourth member of the quaternity in all her manifestations. I believe that the Great Mother, Queen of Heaven, Great Goddess, Eve, Mary, and the Church all are various symbols and representations of the divine feminine and all that is feminine in the human being. I don’t mean this in a “new age” way, but in the most fundamental way. Yes, Mary was a real human being; she was also individuated in the very same way as Lucifer, except that she was human and therefore perhaps even more fallible. The choice she made was toward wholeness and relationship, and away from fragmentation and splitting. I don’t think that Christianity at its ancient root, or even in its modern-day manifestations in orthodoxy or Catholicism, has split off its shadow side. The shadow side is represented in every mass. Rather, I think that because of the freestyle religion offered through evangelical Christianity, and particularly charismatic traditions, our scholarship, history, and tradition have fallen by the wayside and we no longer know who we actually are. This is why I write, and will continue to write, about myths, symbols, depth psychology, and all these matters from a Christian perspective.

Saturn as Father

As the second father, so to speak, Saturn is inconsistently depicted. Some indicated that he was the ruler of an age of purity and innocence, and others that he was the male counterpart of Kali, who devoured his young. Not so with Jupiter, who married Metis (Prudence), a metaphor for the good marriage if I’ve ever seen one. How many mothers have anguished over their wayward sons and prayed for a good wife to anchor him? Prudence does that.

Saturn was such an ogre that eventually Jupiter and his siblings rebelled, banished their evil counterparts in Tartarus (to which there are Biblical references, by the way) and inflicting other penalties on the rest. Atlas, for example, was condemned to hold the universe on his shoulders.

Saturn is Deposed

Jupiter, Neptune (Poseidon) and Pluto (Dis) divided the spoils and dominion of Saturn. Jupiter won the heavens; Neptune the oceans, and Pluto the realm of the dead. Together, the three brothers ruled earth and Olympus. Each brother had specific weapons and emblems of deity. Jupiter had thunder as his weapon and used a shield called Ægis; the eagle was his totem and bore his thunderbolts.

Juno (Hera) was Jupiter’s wife, and queen of the gods. Iris, the goddess of the rainbow, was her messenger and attendant. The peacock was Juno’s favorite bird.

Vulcan (Hephaestos), who made Jupiter’s shield, was the celestial artist and son of Jupiter and Juno. He was born lame and cast out of heaven for it. I have spoken of Vulcan before as just one example of an archetypal adopted child with special needs. Vulcan’s brother was Mars (Ares) the god of war.

The Birth of Venus

Jupiter lived large and is the symbol of bounty and sometimes excess. He had numerous lovers and produced numerous children. Venus (Aphrodite), the goddess of love and beauty, was the daughter of Jupiter and Dione, some say. Others say that Venus sprang from the foam of the sea, an archetypal symbol of the unconscious. It is this second story about Venus, of course, that Boticelli depicted when he painted The Birth of Venus.

8 responses

  1. Alida: there would be no resurrection without the death that precedes it. Seems to me that the mass, as a re-enactment of the Last Supper in which Christ foretold his death, always includes the shadow of physical death along with the light of resurrection.

  2. Pingback: The Birth of Venus | 7 « The Third Eve

  3. What an interesting post! I agree with you that hysteria over mythology being evil by some Christians just shows fear. Also that just because some ideas are shared between mythology and Christianity does not mean Christianity is just another myth, but may mean that central truths penetrate the culture and subconsious of cultures throughout time.

  4. “Whether that truth is literal or symbolic I’ll leave to the reader to decide for him or herself. Suffice to say, I see truth the more I learn about various myths.”

    I don’t think the question of whether the myths are symbolic or literal matters as much as some people think. The myths record truth, and the truth is true no matter what. Even if nothing in any of the myths had a counterpart in what we call “the real world,” they are still real in ways that are even more real than what we usually call real.

    “I think that Eve is the fourth member of the quaternity in all her manifestations. I believe that the Great Mother, Queen of Heaven, Great Goddess, Eve, Mary, and the Church all are various symbols and representations of the divine feminine and all that is feminine in the human being.”

    Although I am a Protestant, I can go along with that idea in principle. I think that there are aspects of femininity in biblical Christianity that the church, especially the Protestant branch, has ignored to our detriment. I think that Mary, as a person, is exalted too much within Catholicism, but I think the Mary/Eve/Church concept is too much ignored by Protestantism.

  5. I think the early church separated out Eve and Mary just as they removed Sophia from the Godhead. The divine feminine had no place, or only a place limited by sin (Eve, Lilith) or incarnation (it was only in the Middle Ages that the doctrine of immaculate conception was devised).

    I find anthroposophical thoughts on Lucifer fascinating. My understanding is that he was cast down because God meant for humans to individuate, not the higher hierarchies. (Even archangels like Michael are not truly individuated in that they cannot work against God’s will.) I’ll have to check on that as I haven’t read any of Steiner’s Christology lectures in a long time.

    Saturn as the male counterpart of Kali. I like that! Another intriguing parallel between disparate mythologies. Though the main image I have of that is Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son, which has a very different feel than that of Kali. Goya’s Saturn is very dark, appears to be insane, and seems to be to be an image of pure destruction. My understanding of Kali is that while she is a powerful destroyer and bringer of death, she also is a manifestation of creation and action. There are many beliefs about her, but that’s the one that works for me!

    You have inspired me to look into some of my books about fairy tales…I came across one today while I was reading to my kids that seemed so ripe with imagery and meaning.

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