Fair warning gentle reader, I’m feeling a bit pissy this evening.
I would first like to say that the gods do not need this little Vreschtik shaman to guard or defend their honor, and I would not presume for a moment to speak for gods who are not my own or who have not instructed me to do so. The following little rant is drawn from my own personal feelings about spirituality, propriety, and respect, and is in no way being written on divine order or inspiration.
In the course of my work as sexuality educator I recently came across an “adult novelties” company I was not previously acquainted with. In keeping with our theme of “disclaimers as narrative” I should note that I have not had enough personal experience with their product line or staff to have an opinion about them as a sex-toy/adult novelties company. Yet, they’ve managed to piss me off.
The company is “Athena’s Home Novelties,” and just typing that out makes me want to spit. Their logo is a bust of the forenamed Greek goddess winking suggestively at the viewer, and their sales representatives are known as “Athena’s goddesses.”
Now, if you have read Notes From a Barking Shaman before, or in fact have taken even a cursory glance at barkingshaman.com, you surely know that I am the last person to object to sex on moral or spiritual grounds! A thorough embracing of sex and sexuality as part of one’s spiritual journey is a central feature in my life and Work.
Nor do I object to companies taking deity names. There is a long and noble history of businesses honoring a patron or inviting the gods’ blessing through name choices. Fire, Asrik, and I chose the name Brigantian Designs LLC for our now-defunct design firm as an homage to the Celtic goddess Brigit, who we hoped would look with favor on our endeavors.
If you have even a cursory level of knowledge of Greek mythology, it is not hard to see what my problem is with “Athena’s Home Novelties.” You see, a driving element in the lore surrounding Athena is that She is a virgin goddess. We’re not talking about a deity simply without any tales featuring sex, or whose purview was some unrelated area of life. No, the fact that Athena is a virgin is actually really important in Her lore and Her place in Greek culture and mythology.
Not only is She virginal, She’s modest. In a culture that treated bare breasts as fashion accessories (even fellow virgin goddess Artemis is often seen in an off-the-shoulder number too revealing for Project Runway), Athena is portrayed fully clothed in either voluminous robes or armor.
It is possible that you could choose a worse Greek deity to name an “Adult Novelties” company after, but for the life of me, none leap to mind.
I’ve been bitching about this issue for well over a week now to just about anyone who’d listen to me, and I’ve heard lots of excuses and justifications from well meaning individuals who think I’m maybe a bit out there in my reaction. The upshot of most of peoples’ counter arguments has been that it is likely an ignorant error, made without malice. These arguments are often accompanied by an overtone of “seriously, why do you care?”
Although more than one person said that just because Athena is portrayed as virginal, it doesn’t mean that she couldn’t have sexual pleasure all by Her lonesome. Far be it for me to deny the value of masturbation, but at the same time A) the impression I’m under is that, yes, it meant exactly that and B) the company in question sells far more than masturbatory supplies.
So then, why do I give a shit? It boils down to two issues for me:
The first is that in one sense, Athena is one of my gods. I’m a hard-polythestic pagan who sees the gods as real and concrete entities. I may not be devote of Athena or the Hellenic pantheon, but I honor and acknowledge Her as a force in the Universe, as I do all the gods. By spitting on Her, this company spits on the very core of my spiritual faith. Yeah, I said “spit” and honestly, I’m going to stand by it.
As I said at the beginning, Athena of all deities, does not need me to defend her honor, but as a shaman and a sexuality educator I feel I’m in a position where I have to speak up. There is also an idea in both neo-paganism and the new-age sexuality movement to see all female deities as connected to sexuality, and that just doesn’t work on multiple levels.
The second reason is both more and less personal: This comes across as lazy. We aren’t talking about an obscure ancient culture and pantheon here, these are the damn Greeks. We learn about their culture and mythology in middle school! There are plenty of figures within Hellenic lore who would be worlds better (Aphrodite’s Home Novelties anyone?). Hell, there’s an entire pantheon within the lore dedicated to love and pleasure. If you’re open to moving outside of a the world of the Greeks, fifteen seconds on google gets you thousands of hits, including Wikipedia’s “List of Love and Lust Deities,” plenty of which are common enough for people to have heard of.
It seems that in naming this company, Athena was chosen because She is A) female and B) powerful, which in itself is insulting to women, sexuality, and the deity Herself. It implies that the goddesses of love and passion are somehow lesser than the virginal goddess of war and wisdom, and that the person choosing the name didn’t see beyond Athena’s gender to what Her identity was, which is a insult to women as well as gods.
Maybe you think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill as my mother would say, and perhaps you are right. But I can’t help but think about the outcry we’d see in the pagan community if someone was arguing against sex and sensuality in the name of Aphrodite, or in the mainstream at a pork BBQ using the Hebrew name of God, or automatic weapons with quotes from Jesus on them (oh wait, that last one essentially happened a few years ago).
Maybe you think that the ancient gods (or all the gods) are simply storybook characters that nut-jobs like me take too seriously, and that’s your right. But that doesn’t mean that it’s right to mock our beliefs, and in the end that’s what this is, a mockery.
26 thoughts on “Athena Doesn’t Care About Your Sex Life”
I’m totally with you on this one. And while Athena may not NEED you to defend Her honor, I wouldn’t be surprised if She appreciated it anyway.
I know Athena has some close ties to the separatist lesbian community in modern times… though I am not sure that had anything to do with the naming of this company.
I am also not sure that “virginal” in the traditional sense of untouched by man, and modest in public means completely asexual behind closed doors. Self-sexual expression is not necessarily at odds with some expressions of virginity. YMMV.
Of course given that this company has expanded into couple’s products, yeah… But the way I see it, if a deity doesn’t like their name associated with something, the company usually fails.
Addendum – I’m fighting a migraine today, so saw you addressed some of what I said. I would still discuss this with those who actually have a relationship with Athena rather than take the modern Christian view of the word “vigin” as gospel when dealing with her.
You are right in that it is a bit lazy. Have you thought of asking about it?
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My reactions just to the title of this rant:
2. What where they thinking?
3. That’s just lazy/lack of resurch.
Upon reading the rant I’m with you I find there choise and lack of resurch insulting. Just know your not alone on this.
That’s right up there with the ad campaign which featured Lakshmi selling hamburgers. Sadly, I suspect any words of protest would be wasted. For much of our community, the words “reverence” and “respect” are more obscene than putting a deity’s face on a butt plug or wiping your ass with a Torah scroll.
I think you’re 100% right. I’m not an expect on Hellenic religion, but I’m not aware of any extant references that portray Athena as having any kind of sex life at all, and I think it’s entirely inappropriate to use Her name for sex toys.
And I agree, too, that it’s a matter of the business owners — like most modern Westerners — not believing that there actually *is* an Athena to offend, nor worshippers who might be offended on Her behalf.
Kenaz, are you referring to the Hardees/Carl’s Jr ad that ran a couple years ago? That featured an actress/model/food writer whose name is Padma Lakshmi. I’ll admit that I take personal, prurient joy in the ad’s food-porntasticness, but nowhere in it do they try to convince the viewer that Padma is intended to represent the goddess of the same name. She’s just a smokin’ hot woman, savoring a burger with unnecessary amounts of barbecue sauce.
Kate: I linked to the original Burger King ad (which only ran in Spain) on my blog post which was inspired by this. The Padma Laxmi ad was something else, about which I can only say “I fap to this.”
Now I’ve seen everything. Knowing that certain sections of the asexual community kind of see her as an ace goddess just adds another layer of irony to the whole thing. Normally (as an Athena-worshiper and as an ace) something like that would send me through the roof (the disrespect! the laziness!) but I am laughing way too hard to be mad right now. It seems like a punchline to a joke. Really? Athena?
Hi this is Jennifer Jolicoeur owner of Athena’s Home Novelties.
14 years ago, I started my business and named it after my patron Goddess Athena. I was not lazy as you have accused – I chose carefully. Sure I could have chosen the sensual Aphrodite or even Venus the Goddess of love. But I did not. I chose Athena.
– Because women need to hear how to love themselves and care for their bodies.
The women who do present our products at our home parties impart great wisdom that helps improve the lives of many.
– Because I was declaring war on the discriminatory and oppressive beliefs about female sexuality.
I am also pagan and have travelled to Greece with offerings to two temples of Athena – the great parthenon and
her temple in Rhodes.
I am not exploiting her name, I am spreading her name. She is joyous to hear her name on the lips of
I have faithfully followed the path of the Goddess for 15 years.
I have taught thousands and thousands of people to revere the word Goddess to bring balance to their lives.
And if Athena didn’t like it – I’m sure she would have shut me down by now. She has not because I keep her name alive and people all over this country praise her.
In her name I have raised over $40,000 for breast cancer research and charities. My Charity is called the Athena’s Cup.
In her name I have raised money to provide milk to the elderly in winter.
In her name I have helped battered women’s shelters and homeless shelters.
In her name I have adopted struggling families during the holidays.
In her name I raised $10,000 to help a pagan family whose daughter fell off a boat and nearly lost her life when the propeller cut through her skull.
In her name I raised thousands of dollars for families affected by the Station Fire in Rhode Island.
Before you go tearing apart my life’s work and all the good I have done for women in general – I think you should investigate my intensions first.
Athena’s has empowered women spiritually, sexually, and professionally.
To be in tune with their bodies.
To earn money to provide for their families.
To create community.
To help others on so many levels.
If you took a minute to get to know our history and the way we have helped the world, you would be proud – just as my patron Goddess Athena is proud.
I devote my life to putting her name on the lips of all. And when they say her name, they feel her power – her gifts.
The fact that she was a virgin is irrelevant.
I chose her. She chose me.
Together we do good on this planet and I serve her.
So mote it be.
and on the contrary…
I care a great deal about your sex life!
Hello, I’m O. Laplante. I’m Someone who cares about Athenas home novelties and would like you to contact me privatly so we can discuss this blog. In reading what you said I see my kind of language enough to know we are kindered. Read my bio were like twins…well maybe cousins lol. I have worked with and around these amazing folks for years from changing peoples lives by giving them warrior like business stratigies to worshiping with them In Athenas Temple in Athens.You wouldnt beleve the Amazing powers Athena has given theese men and women who work for her.
PS I was the Father driving the boat my friend refered too.
Wintersong, you make an interesting argument in your blog. Who are we to understand fully in what ways and how the God/desses choose to have their name spread and with what vehiclesm however? Athena was attributed to, and often seen as, the African Goddess, Neith….a parthenogenetic goddess. Athena was also sometimes referred to as a Virgin Mother. Symbols she carried were associated with fertility. This does not mean that She had sexual relations, but it allows for things not to be so black and white in regards to Her origins. You even mentioned Artemis, who was often called by those in need while in labor. Virgin goddesses do not necessarily dislike sex and have been known to promote healthy sexual union…between others.
I am sorry that you have been so affected by Jennifer’s decision, or calling, to name her company after a Goddess who is a skill strategist, empowered and independent. It is clear that you have yet to do more than scratch the surface of what Athena’s Home Novelties is about, that it is more than a sex toy company. I will not list additional accolades, for Jen has listed a number of them, but I will say that she has done way more than she has expressed.
As a veteran goddess with Athena’s Home Novelties, a devotee of Artemis and Pan (yup, Artemis and Pan), a presenter on sacred sexuality topics, a priestess…I understand the dichotomy of serving the gods as they see to guide me even if I don’t always understand their methods or the methods seem to be in contrast to how Their characteristics are portrayed.
As someone who walks in similar circles, I would like to encourage you to reach out to O or I with the struggle that your post, and your need to write about it, suggests.
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I found this post through Ambrosius over at The Magical Pomander and I have to say I find both sides of the discussion quite compelling in their own ways. I have to side with Athena’s Novelties though (not that anyone actually cares). I know that Athena was seen as a modest virgin goddess, but that doesn’t mean she disapproves of sex or of being linked to sex. Hell, for all we know, she might have had a lover or two! Just because she isn’t shown to have sexual relationships in mythology doesn’t mean she never has! Myths help us understand the gods, but they do not define the gods. That’s like saying that Hera is just a bitter, angry housewife or that because Aphrodite had an affair she is a whore and can’t ever be associated with someone who is chaste.
I fully intend to write a follow up to this post, but today I am extremely sick with an upper respiratory and sinus infection. In the meantime, Kenaz Filan has written a very even handed post regarding this debate that does an excellent job of examine multiple sides of this thorny issue, which involves UPG, lore, and our concepts of identity and the gods.
My own piece should be out in the next few days, and in the meantime I strongly encourage folk to have a look at Kenaz’s here: http://kenazfilan.blogspot.com/2011/11/less-mirth-more-reverence-for-jennifer.html?spref=fb
nightjohn88, I’m pretty sure if She’d had “a lover or two”, the ancients wouldn’t have made such a big whooping deal out of Her being a virgin goddess that it become one of Her defining epithets, “Athena Parthenos”. This isn’t a matter of part of Her story being lost. It’s a matter of something that WAS revealed, over and over again, millennia of established lore, being seemingly contradicted. It’s not turning Her into a caricature to say that sexuality was not part of her domain, it’s paying respect to everything we’ve learned about Her to date, the revelations of Her followers as far back as She’s had them.
With that said, I am reluctant to immediately reject Ms. Jolicouer’s reasoning. I find her litany of good deeds done under the auspices of her endeavor to be less compelling than she seems to hope. But goodness knows that the Gods have a long and storied history of asking people to serve them in non-traditional, unexpected ways. Often this means coming into direct conflict with other believers, and unfortunately that’s just part of the onus you take on when you agree to do the work.
Feel better soon.
@Kate Dillion, very well put! This conflict, which I’ve most often been on the other side of, will be the topic addressed in my follow up post once I’m feeling a bit better.
@Kate Dillon – Very good point. I haven’t had much experience with Athena in particular, but I do agree that it’s important to respect tradition. I just don’t think we know all there is to know about the gods. I think we can’t, really. Ultimately, it’s about what Athena thinks. Maybe someone should just ask her.
I’m all for “just ask the gods”, but unfortunately, either their responses will be confirmed with ancient sources, or it will be confirmed through others who’ve asked the same deity(s) the same question(s) (Confirmed Personal Gnosis, or Group Gnosis), or it will be completely unconfirmed by any other source (Unconfirmed Personal Gnosis or UPG). The latter part is where things get tricky —it could be the start of some whole new understanding of a God or Goddess, or it could just be pure charlatanism looking for a few suckers.
Now, personally, I don’t think that this Athene’s Home Novelties company is completely without Athene’s blessing, but I don’t think it’s for the reasons its proprietor thinks, or is at least telling herself. I think Athene will simply encourage any woman to being financially independent, even if it’s not a company necessarily within Her typical domain. I actually find it rather bizarre that AHN’s proprietary lady and her supporters never once in this whole controversy voiced thinking of that as a possible reason this company may appear, to its proprietor, to be “blessed by Athene”, as it just seems so obvious to me: It’s a company owned and operated by a woman, which largely (if not completely) employs women, and uses a considerable portion of its profits to help other women. I think this company could be selling plastic vomit and whoopee cushions under the same operational guidelines, and Athene would probably still look kindly upon it as a venture of sisters-doing-it-for-themselves —only difference, though, is if that were the case, I think other people would be considerably less offended, even if they’d continue to point out that it makes little sense.
Athene’s mythos don’t show us a Goddess offended by sex, just one who doesn’t do it, who clearly refuses it, but at the same time, doesn’t clearly find it abhorrent. I have seen, though, a lot of people clammouring to defend the honour of a parthenos goddess Whose mythology even makes very clear is perfectly capable of defending Her own honour.
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