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.