Museum Haven

At various points of my career I’ve applied for museum curator positions.  Since those who actually land those jobs have degrees in museum studies, I’ve never gotten as far as an interview.  Still, I like to think I’d be good at it.  I spend time in museums and I’ve been told I have an okay eye for design.  And I recently read that museums are educational institutions.  That makes sense since people tend to be visual learners.  (This is something I took into account in my classes as well, illustrating lectures to make a point.  The traditional academic feels that pictures are somehow “soft” learning as opposed to the harsh realities of text and word-based instruction, but I beg to differ.)  We see things and they stick with us.

On a visit to the New York Historical Society museum I once looked at their somewhat abbreviated sculpture collection.  This isn’t the Met, after all.  One of the tricks I’ve learned about museum displays is that some curators place subtle humor in their framing of objects.  For example, my gaze was drawn to a figure of a pilgrim.  A stern-looking fellow, he’s captured in full stride, massive Bible tucked under his arm, determined frown on his face.  This is a man trying to create Heaven on earth, dour though it may be.  Taking a step back, my camera found a smile in this image.  On either side of this angry Christian were two naked women: one was apparently Artemis with her bow, the other perhaps a Muse.  The lines of the display draw attention to this juxtaposition.  There’s some humor here, intentional or not.

This also takes me back to yesterday’s post about Heaven.  Perceptions of what it is differ.  There’s a mindset like the pilgrim that sees a life of suffering being rewarded in the hereafter with endless bliss.  I do have to wonder whether too much hardship down here might not make one forget how to enjoy oneself.   It’s difficult to picture a Puritan in rapture.  It’s as if the journey—the hard road—is the real source of enjoyment here.  Each of us, I suppose, has her or his own view of Heaven.  Mine’s kind of like a library with all the time in the world without end to read.  Others, I suspect, would find paradise as a garden.  Yet others would see Heaven as a kind of museum, but it would be one where laughing out loud was okay, for the Curator definitely has a sense of humor.

Breaking News

Herostratus, it is said, tried to destroy the Temple of Artemis so that he might become famous. His name is now associated with gaining fame at any cost. In case any of my readers suppose I might be like Herostratus, I would be glad to confirm that I’m not the Steve Wiggins in the headline below. While I do have a beard, I’ve only been to Tennessee once that I know of. When a friend contacted me to ask why I’d shot the deputy (but I did not shoot the sheriff) it reminded me of a post on this blog from many years ago about sharing the name of the gospel singer Steve Wiggins. He’s always at the top for any Google search, which is why I always tell people to use my middle initial when seeking even more than you can find on this blog: “Steve A. Wiggins” usually brings me up. I’m not as desperate as Herostratus yet.

Names can be tricky that way. I’ve written a number of books in my life, and three of them are either published or in production. Holy Horror, which is now available on McFarland’s website (the book itself will be out in August) is listed on Amazon. It isn’t paired with my other two books yet, perhaps because it is so different. My Amazon author page brings up A Reassessment of Asherah and Weathering the Psalms, but it’s a little coy about Holy Horror. This blog isn’t quite like trying to destroy Artemis’ temple, but then, it isn’t exactly a Twitter-follower magnet either.

I have a friend who has a fictional Twitter account. He has more than twice the number of followers I do, and his Twitter persona is made up. I follow people who don’t follow me back. I do hope this isn’t how Herostratus got started. It is tragic that a deputy was shot and killed by an armed Wiggins in the south. I’m no friend of the NRA, and like most of the world I believe we’d be better off with far fewer guns, and Herostratus is pretty much forgotten today. In fact, every time I want to mention him I have to do a Google search to find his name. Destroying property of the gods, apparently, doesn’t always give you lasting fame. Looking at what’s happening in DC these days I see confirmation of that all the time. But then don’t take my word for it—I’m only a blogger with a tiny Twitter following. Just don’t accuse me of having a gun or trying to sing in public.

Firelands

BayardFirelandsPiper Bayard has been a long-time blogging buddy of mine. She’s kind enough to comment on many of my posts and even kinder to like even more. Piper recently published her novel Firelands, and she sent me a copy that I began reading right away. My schedule this entire month has been unfriendly to literacy, but I was always glad to have a few minutes to read a few more chapters of an intriguing post-apocalyptic future. What’s more, Piper is keenly aware that religion is behind much of politics—a point she boldly makes by constructing a dictatorship based around a miracle-claiming prophet-king who oppresses those who don’t believe—the Seculars, or “Secs.” Interestingly, Piper decided on the name Josephites for the religious rulers, and there are dark undertones here for those who know their religious history. As an unabashed fan of allegorical writing, I saw quite a lot here that was, well, apocalyptic, in the literal sense of the word.

In a misogynic future, the Josephites, who dwell in cities, burn many women for various heretical crimes in autos-da-fé entitled Atonements. These human sacrifices ensure fertility and also help to explain the trials of life in a post-cataclysmic world. The protagonist, Archer, has to not only survive, but to try to save her cousin, a grandchild of the eponymous Joseph, from the flames. The Josephites live in a society of thinly rooted but strongly mandated religion. There is an underground of true Christians, and Archer, although a Sec, acts with more compassion than any of the Josephites, except perhaps her cousin. In a world that has lost its bearings, religion both undergirds and undermines a dystopian society where differences of faith have come to define everyone’s role in a harsh world. (Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.)

In this world where heaven is a fiery hell, I realized that Archer was more familiar than she first seemed. A female warrior, she opens the book by tracking a large stag to feed her starving people. Nevertheless, it took me many chapters to realize that she was a hypostatic Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. No wonder she couldn’t convert to the standard religion! Her example leads the way toward a renewable and sustainable future, in touch with nature, while the “religious” in their urban environment are dying on the vine as they appear to thrive. This is a world where old gods are more authentic than an enforced religion that few believe and that only rules through fear. There is much more I could say about Piper’s fascinating book, but I want you to read it for yourself. Visit Piper’s website for more information, and support the work of an author who really has something to say!

The Hunter

Orion seems to have tripped in his journey across the sky last night. I can remember being told of generals falling in battle, and now I hear how they fall in bed. Nobody really expects Sunday School behavior from an aging warrior, but the brass is used to issuing orders and expects unquestioning obedience. Now we delve into their personal lives and are surprised to find, what? Sex? Sex scandals have become a major source of “news” over the past several years and General Petraeus is only the most recent in a long line of politicians and power-mongers who’ve been caught in compromising positions. How very primate of us. I often think how in the categories of sin we include getting caught in affairs among the most horrible. But also among the most common.

Given the other activities of generals—waging wars and ensuring that enough of the enemy die to gain compliance—you might think that keeping them safely between the sheets might be the best thing for the greatest number. I don’t know the ins and outs of the story, but with the scandal running across the headlines it is pretty obvious that we’re all past the shock of Sandy and election night. Time to find other peccadilloes to amuse us.

If we cast a wide enough net, however, it won’t haul in generals only. No, we find politicians of all orders, televangelists, football coaches and all kinds of other leaders entangled in it. The thing that they seem to have in common is lack of commitment. Or restraint. That worries me a bit when it comes to leaders. None of us is perfect, I realize, but certain activities are taboo and those who ride the trajectory to fame violate those taboos at their own peril. It is the story of David and Bathsheba. I am, however, reminded of the mighty hunter Orion. The various myths tell it differently, but in one popular version it was the jealousy of Artemis that felled him. Perhaps that is why he seemed off-balance as I watch him fleeing the rising sun outside my window.

Till Credner’s Orion from Wikipedia Commons

Co-opting Hecate

Students in my mythology class had to research and write about a deity from the ancient world. I was pleased that one of them chose Hecate, a misunderstood goddess of obscure origins. Hecate overlaps with other deities in her spheres of influence and her many roles, a sign that she was an early goddess adopted into the Greek pantheon at a stage before Artemis, Selene, and Persephone took over her connections with the moon and underworld. She was a guardian of crossroads, a task later attributed to Hermes – a god who also became a psychopomp. Hecate was left to languish in Hades where she became associated with gloom and magic and baleful spells.

What the Hecate?

It is likely the latter developments that have brought Hecate into the status of patron goddess of many Wiccans. She is chthonian – a right jolly old Goth – and she takes on a bad-girl image that would not have been recognized by the ancient Greeks. Even Shakespeare contributed to her witchy-woman image when he associated her with the weird sisters in Macbeth. Revitalized as a symbol of feminine power, Hecate enjoys such popularity today that it is difficult to find reliable information on the goddess.

I find it instructive that ancient goddesses are so embellished to make them tasteful to modern explorers. Perhaps because of the persistent patriarchality of ancient society, we have been deprived of deep knowledge of the goddesses. For those who originally worshiped them, however, the goddesses needed no blandishments. They were the personification of divine power manifested through the feminine. Ancients believed that all people were touched by supernatural forces, no matter what their gender. In a brash demonization of the powerful feminine, Hecate has become the goddess of witches and seekers after a female image that simply never existed. Why not accept goddesses for who they were – constant reminders that life is not possible without the divine feminine?

Virgin Goddesses and Human Fathers

Several years ago today I became a father. I try not to say much about my family online because I am old enough to be cautious about this brave, new, virtual world I post in just about every day; yet being a father is a life-changing experience like no other. The absentee father – something I personally experienced – sacrifices one of the most fulfilling aspects of life. Unless you’ve been there, you can’t understand it.

Today’s paper raises the question of whether celibacy is related to the continuing scandal of sexually transgressing priests that continue to come to light. Men who are not fathers but are called “Father.” Men, sworn by duty never to give in to human nature, appointed as spiritual guides to the masses who have succumbed to the dictates of biology and society. The church denies any connection. Could it do any differently? Two thousand years of frustrated men might storm heaven itself!

Among the most admired deities of the ancient Greeks were the virgin goddesses Hestia, Athena, and Artemis. Their divinity radiated through their self-sufficiency and self-determination; no god needed complete them. Goddesses had an integrity that few gods ever attained. We don’t read of virgin gods; Zeus was famous for his affairs, as were most masculine divinities. Many gods kidnapped or deceived women to slake their lust. Yet the virgin goddesses were formidable and truly worshipped. By restoring the virginity of Mary, the church constructed its own virgin goddess as a paragon for all to emulate. Priests were to be like the mythically chaste Joseph, longsuffering and self-abnegating. But they are mere mortals. Why not let religious leaders truly become fathers? It has forever changed my life for the better. Perhaps it would be healthier than chasing mythical virgin goddesses?

Athena, most chaste

Patriarchal Goddesses

My fascination with goddesses began when I decided to research Asherah. Having grown up in a monotheistic milieu, goddesses were strangely, but not surprisingly, irrelevant. I had, of course, read about them in mythology classes, but they seemed less defined than the gods who had strong, striking characteristics. Now that I’m revisiting many classical goddesses in the course of preparing my class on Mythology, I’m discovering a renewed appreciation for the feminine divine and its contribution to the ancient world.

Athena saves a hero

Athena and Artemis have been on my mind for the past several weeks. Among the Olympian deities they are among the strongest female figures (Aphrodite, of course, provides her own feminine form of power, and Hera, although mighty, remains largely in the background). Perhaps what creates such a striking form for Athena and Artemis is that they blend the traditional masculine and feminine roles in a way that the ancient Greeks were prescient to devise – they both possess weaponry and strength that frequently brings mortal men to their demise. They don’t wile with “feminine charms” like Aphrodite; instead they meet men on their own tuft – hunting and warfare, bravery and muscle. They are virgins, not needing male approval. Together they form the basis of many ancient aspects of divine nobility.

Artemis and her man-dog

Today, however, when we think of Olympians Zeus and Poseidon come to mind almost immediately as the two major figures. No one disputes the unstoppable power of Zeus’ thunderbolt or Poseidon’s earthquake. The goddesses, however, display their power on the human level. They may set the fortunes of armies going to war or individuals out for personal glory or fame. They touch the characters on a more human level. They also have their counterparts, unfortunately often eclipsed, in the world of the ancient Near East. Astarte is still poorly understood, and Anat, although more fully fleshed out at Ugarit, largely remains an enigma. The importance of Athena and Artemis thus stands out in sharper relief for having survived the overly acquisitive masculine ego to remind people everywhere that goddesses also will have their due. Given enough time, perhaps even the gods will understand.