by Rene Wadlow
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. 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, seeing what is usually hidden or instinctive. Minerva is she who brings ideas 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, Economy” — 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 its 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 in Afghanistan and Pakistan 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, then 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, President, Association of World Citizens