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Posted on December 25th, 2015 by Don Cerow

Many of the characters of myth were shape-shifters. Besting them meant they would be forced to reveal hidden secrets about past or future. Menelaos wrestled with Proteus, an early god of the rivers and oceans until Proteus provided him with the information he sought. Heracles wrestled with Asclepion who kept changing his appearance in an effort to throw him off. During the struggle, Heracles broke off one of Asclepions horns giving birth to the Horn of Cornucopia, the horn of plenty. Circe changed the sailors of Odysseus into pigs. Zeus used this lure repeatedly to impersonate bull, swan, cuckoo and quail to great romantic effect, both divine and mortal.

It’s a long list.

We apply this same logic to our mythic investigation when we proposed that the Grey Lady of Nantucket is linked to the grey-eyed Goddess. This is myth, not math. The Grey Lady is known for the quality of her Nantucket lightship baskets, whose weave has become famous. They were developed for men on shipboard during the 19th century to fill the time. Blue bloods made them a sought after commodity. They are beautiful, expensive and available, in Nantucket.

Gifts of the Goddess.

The Atheneum in the center of town was a huge clue as to her hidden personality. She was said to be the goddess of war, courage, civilization, mathematics, law and justice. She was the goddess of strategy, crafts and skill in understanding not only weaving, but religion and mythology also. Athena represented the essential heroic spirit of Greek culture.

The mythic process continues, as life writes new myths and we catch glimpses of their characteristics. These archetypes have a life of their own.

For instance, the wise old grey owl is Athena’s bird. Its call lets folks know the goddess was playing some part of the drama. She rules grey-matter. We pick up the greys of twilight in contemporary folklore as Gandolph the Grey becomes the champion in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings cycle. He’s your go-to guy that figures out a way to get through each tribulation.

This is Athena’s role in battle.

Athena’s most remembered myth is possibly her weaving contest with Arachne, a mortal of such fame that she boasted she exceeded even the handiwork of the goddess. In yet another example of metamorphosis Athena transforms herself into an old woman suggesting to Arachne she honor the goddess by taking back what she had said. The short-sighted Arachne would not take it back, at which point the goddess dropped her disguise and the two agreed to a contest. Athena wove a picture of the triumphs of the Olympians, while Arachne depicted the many sufferings the gods had brought down on mortals. Each of their tapestries was flawless, but it led to Athena losing her temper, smashing Arachne’s loom and changing her into a spider, one who continually weaves the web.

It is from this myth that Athena’s Web draws its name.

Nantucket has a reputation for its basket weaving prowess.

      Tapestry, weave and web are all thought to be Athena’s, as is battle gear, aegis and the owl.The Corinthian helmet is another example of one of these symbolic clues. Whenever strategy and cunning are sought we can find these images bobbing to the surface. Athena wore the Corinthian helmet (pictured at right), and like the owl, it has become a symbol for craft and wisdom, traceable through several mythological motifs all designed to evoke her cunning. As the name implies, it originated as the prototype of helmet for the Greek city state Corinth. When not in battle a hoplite would push the helmet back and up and so that it would be worn like a cap on top of the head. During the Archaic and early Classical periods it had been the most popular helmet, and was even used into the 1st century AD by the Roman Army.
      Athena herself is seen here with the helmet pushed up onto her head.But wisdom, skill and victory pass from culture to culture over time. As the dominating culture at the end of the classical period after the Alexandrian conquests, Greek Athena stood at the summit of her fame. The Romans would come to adopt her as Minerva.
 Notice the helmet, shield and spear (at right), the battle gear of the goddess; but this is also the form that wisdom will take in a new incarnation.The Britons were originally people thought to reside in the islands of northwestern Europe. Britannia was the feminine personification of the land and people living there. It is obviously borrowed from earlier traditions as we see on this coin from 200 BC (right).

In this next image, the helmet and shield (here emblazoned with the crossbars of the Union Jack at left) look pretty much the same as its counterpart from Pergamon. The one symbolic difference is that in this ha’ penny coin Britannia holds a trident, suggesting that the key to world dominance lies in naval victories through the Age of Pisces, the oceanic archetype of the last two thousand years.

Rule Brittannia!           Hello Athena.

We find these same symbolic themes returning once again in more contemporary culture, this time as the symbol for the service academy at West Point, as shield and helmet appear as the spirit of the goddess of war teaches her students the ins and outs of this mortal craft.

Like Athena, who sprang from the head of Zeus fully grown and armored, so was the eagle the bird of Zeus. Since Zeus translates most closely as ‘the sky’, what we have here are two archetypes that are ‘heaven sent’ or ordained by God above.For the Greeks, Britons, and Nantucketers the grey-eyed goddess has also represented a tie to the sea, sailors, and celestial navigation. Her Web is the lines of longitude and latitude against which the stars are measured, and our path laid out. Each of these lines is invisible and imaginary, but oh, so real.The Grey Lady continues to weave her Web of intrigue, mystery and magic all about us. We are all caught in her strands in one way or another.What’s in your helmet?


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