I’ve named my business after the Greek goddess Pallas, also known as Athena. The asteroid Pallas is exactly conjunct the midheaven in my birth chart (the personal point in the birth chart that’s related to one’s purpose in life, career and how one becomes known in the world). In many ways I identify with the stories, personality, positive qualities and less positive qualities of Pallas Athena. Below I share with you the stories of Pallas Athena, for those who are interested. Starting with a hymn to honor the goddess.
Orphic Hymn to Pallas Athena
Only-begotten, noble race of Jove,
Blessed and fierce, who joyest in caves to rove:
O, warlike Pallas, whose illustrious kind,
Ineffable and effable we find:
Magnanimous and famed, the rocky height,
And groves, and shady mountains thee delight:
In arms rejoicing, who with Furies dire
And wild, the souls of mortals dost inspire.
Gymnastic virgin of terrific mind,
Dire Gorgon’s bane, unmarried, blessed, kind:
Mother of arts, impetuous; understood,
Rage to the wicked, wisdom to the good:
Female and male, the arts of war are thine,
Fanatic, much-formed dragoness, divine:
Over the Phlegrean giants, roused to ire,
Thy coursers driving, with destruction dire.
Sprung from the head of Jove, of splendid mien,
Purger of evils, all-victorious queen.
Hear me, O Goddess, when to thee I pray,
With supplicating voice both night and day,
And in my latest hour, give peace and health,
Propitious times, and necessary wealth,
And, ever present, be thy votaries aid,
O, much implored, art’s parent, blue-eyed maid.
The birth of Pallas Athena
Pallas, also known as Athena, is a Greek goddess. She’s the daughter of Metis and Zeus. Metis was Zeus his first wife (or victim, I would say). She lived true to her name meaning ‘Wise Counsel’; equal to Zeus in wise counsel and courage. Thus, it’s no wonder that Athena became a wise and courageous goddess, with both her parents being wise and courageous deities. There are different stories of the birth of Pallas Athena. Most of them tell that Athena is born from the head of Zeus, after Zeus swallowed the pregnant Metis after hearing the prediction that Metis would give birth to someone who could overpower Zeus. Usually it’s the woman or goddess giving birth and not the man or god. The story of Zeus swallowing a pregnant goddess in order to protect his status and giving birth to his own daughter is a story that describes the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy that took place in very early Greece.
“The true inception of Pallas, however, occurred in Libya 6000 years ago where she was born on the shores of Lake Triton, home of several African Amazons. Her ancient title “Tritogenia” refers to her origins from water. After her birth, Pallas was found and nurtured by three Libyan nymphs dressed in goat skins. During this period she was known as the Libyan Triple Goddess Neith. Around 4000 BC, Libyan refugees brought their goddess to Crete where her worship was adopted and passed on to Thrace and Greece in the first Minoan age. From this era arose the transitional version of Pallas’ birth through her Titan sea goddess mother Metis, daughter of Oceanus. Metis helped Zeus achieve victory over his father, Cronus, by giving him an emetic that forced him to cough up his swallowed children. Although Metis changed into many shapes to avoid Zeus’ lustful advances, she was finally ravished and got with child. Gaia and Uranus warned Zeus that Metis would bear a child after Pallas Athena who would become king of gods and men. To maintain his sovereignty, Zeus consumed Metis whole while she was pregnant with Athena. The blinding headache that resulted when Zeus walked the shores of Lake Triton could only be relieved through having his head cleft with a double-edged axe (a matriarchal symbol). Amidst the rumbling of the earth and raging of the sea, out sprang Pallas Athena in armor of gleaming gold. She immediately became her father’s favorite. From a sociological perspective, the myth of Pallas Athena’s birth from Zeus’s head marks the ingestion and adaptation of the feminine wisdom principle to the needs of the new patriarchal order.” (D. George & D. Boch, 2003 p. 81-82)
Like mentioned, there are different versions of the birth of Pallas Athena and different stories of her life. Though most times she’s known as the daughter of Zeus, there are also stories of her being the daughter of Pallas: “In our language the word pallas can be variously accented and inflected so as to have either a masculine or a feminine meaning. In the masculine it means strong young man, in the feminine a strong virgin, a virago, as she would be called in Latin. The male Pallas was always the same figure, a wilder and even more warlike version if Pallas the goddess. It is said of Pallas the father of Pallas Athene, that he sought to do violence to his own daughter. The goddess overcame him, took his skin as booty, and herself wore the skin. Pallas the father was winged, as also was Pallas the daughter in old portrayals of her.” (C. Kerényi, 1951, p. 120-121)
Pallas Athena, the warrior goddess, close and nearby
The respect that Pallas Athena got was in part due to her quality of manliness. “Virgin goddess, not even born of a woman, she was described by a number of martial epithets – “leader of the war-host”, “raiser of battle”, “driver of armies”, and “she who repulses the enemy”. Invincible in battle, she became a symbol of strategic and well-planned warfare. As protectress of heroes, Pallas Athena aided Hercules in his labors, assisted Odysseus in his return voyage from Troy, and enabled Perseus to kill Medusa, whose head of coiled serpents Athena wears brandished in the center of her breastplate.” (D. George & D. Boch, 2003 p. 83) Next to breastplate with the image of the Gorgon Medusa, Athena’s military trademarks are the helmet and the sphere.
Unlike her half-brother Apollo, who acted from ‘afar’, Athena was felt to be ‘close’. Athena was not just ‘close’ to individual heroes (like Achilles and Odysseus), but also to communities. Sometimes the very fate of a city hung upon her presence. Only when her talismanic statue the Palladium was stolen from Troy, the city could fall to its besiegers. In Minoan Crete, Pallas Athena was worshiped as ‘Lady of Athana’, protectress of the palace and city, whose emblems were the house-guarding serpent and the bird. The city of Athens was named after the patron deity Athena; there’s an intimate link between the city and the goddess, that birthed in the myth of Athena and Poseidon fighting over rulership of the city. The principle temples of Argos, Sparta and Lindos were all dedicated to Athena, as was the most famous of all: the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis.
Pallas, Athena and Medusa
“Athena was honored annually in a Libyan festival of maidens armed in combat, reminiscent of the virgin priestesses of Neith competing for the position of high-priestess. The Greeks copied their Libyan garments of goat skins and shield with the image of Athena, and retold the patriarchal version of this tale as follows. One day, as the story goes, Athena was engaged in friendly combat with her foster sister Pallas, daughter of a local sea-god Triton. Suddenly, Zeus interposed his aegis, thereby distracting Athena’s attention so that she accidentally killed her sister. In her sorrow and grief, Athena set Pallas’ name before her own and fashioned an image of her dead sister, endowing it with the fatal, power-bearing aegis. This image known as the Palladium, was wrought with magical qualities that granted invulnerability to the beholder. In her original nature, the warrior attributes of Athena were embodied in her aspect as Pallas – a strong maiden protectress of the matriarchal Amazon tribes of her Libyan cult. This is the true derivation of the Pallas prefix. In the Olympian version Athena kills her own earlier defensive nature and takes on the violent, aggressive, warlike qualities of the new patriarchal order. However she leaves behind a legacy in the Palladium as a testimony guaranteeing her presence and protection. The Roman Temple of Vesta was said to be the secret repository of the genuine Palladium.” (D. George & D. Boch, 2003 p. 84)
Pallas, Athena and Medusa were the triple Moon emanations of the Libyan snake goddess Neith. They were the maiden, mother and crone. Athena was one and the same with Pallas and Medusa. When Athena entered Greek culture, she became a symbol of the new patriarchal order. She was portrayed as assisting in the destruction of her matriarchal antecedents. She played a part in the killing of both Pallas and Medusa.
“From a historical perspective the classical myth of Perseus’ triumph over Medusa, with the aid of Athena, represents actual events during the reign of the historical king Perseus (circa 1209 BC), founder of the new dynasty in Mycenae. During this period the early Moon goddess powers were usurped by patriarchally dominated invaders of mainland Greece. The Hellenes overran the goddess’ chief shrines, stripped their priestesses of their Gorgon masks, and took possession of the sacred horse. This historical rupture and sociological trauma registered itself in the following myth. Medusa, the third aspect of the triple-goddess triad, was a queen of the Gorgon Amazons who lived near Lake Triton, the very spot of Athena’s origins. Renowned for her loveliness, she was greatly desired by her suitors. Poseidon, lord of the sea, whose original form was ‘Hippios’, the horse deity, violated Medusa in Athena’s temple and begot her with twins. Athena was outraged at this act; yet, she punished not Poseidon, but Medusa by turning her loveliest possession, her hair, into hissing snakes and causing her glance to turn men into stone. Athena then assisted Perseus by lending him her great shield which he could use as a mirror against Medusa, thereby avoiding direct contact with her terrifying face. Using the shield and Hermes’ magical blade, Perseus was able to cut off Medusa’s head and present it to Athena. Out of Medusa’s severed head sprang the two children of Poseidon: Chrysaor, the hero of the golden sword, and the winged horse Pegasus, symbol of poetry. As Perseus flew away, drops of blood from Medusa’s neck fell to the ground, causing oases to grow in the desert. Athena also procured some of Medusa’s blood and gave a portion to her son Erichthonius and the remainder to Asclepius, god of healing, who used it to heal the living and regenerate the dead. Athena and Medusa were originally two aspects of the Libyan snake goddess Neith. Yet, as we just witnessed, she was portrayed in Olympian times as having helped to destroy her matriarchal roots. Yet, for all who have eyes to see, Athena still flaunts the mark of her authentic nature, the head of Medusa, in the center of her breastplate.” (D. George & D. Boch, 2003 p. 84-85)
The serpent wisdom of Pallas Athena
Pallas Athena is surrounded by serpent symbolism, throughout her stories and imagery. Pallas her gift of prophecy is derived from her essential relationship with the qualities of the serpent. As discussed above, the origins of Pallas are found in the Libyan goddess Neith. Neith is a snake goddess. Pallas Athene wears in the center of her breastplate the head of serpent-haired Medusa, queen of an Amazon tribe from Pallas Athene’s birthplace in Libya. There are several stories of Athena performing serpent magic. Athena, though she was a virgin goddess, once gave birth to a serpent child. She raised him in secret together with her priestesses in her holy temple in Erechtheum and the child, named Erichthonius, later became king of Athens and was gifted in making known the prophecies of oracles.
In Athens, upon the Acropolis, stood a huge statue of Pallas Athena with a snake of equal size considered to be the fate and guardian of the city. The goddess and the divine snake were regarded as one. When Athens was besieged by the Persians and the guardian snake refused to eat its sacrificial food, the people believed that the goddess had abandoned her city.
Pallas Athena, an inspiration and painful reminder
In the above I shared how Pallas Athena supported the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy. There are actually even more striking stories of how Athena explicitly spoke favor of patriarchy. We have to remind ourselves, however, that it is us humans who tell the stories. The mythology followed cultural changes, not the other way around. The goddess Athena, and her sisters Pallas and Medusa, have been misused to support the establishment of patriarchy. It’s not uncommon for religion to be misused for powerplays. The pain of Athena is visible in her wearing the name of Pallas and wearing the image of Medusa. Even though Athena presents herself as a masculine tough virgin goddess, she does so with a certain pain and carries the loss of her softer side and sexual expression. Pallas Athena, very interestingly, is both an anti-feminist and one of the most feminist goddesses one can think of. Her anti-feminism is visible in the roles she played in the deaths of her sisters and in other stories that I haven’t shared in the above. Her support of feminism is visible in the fact that she is a goddess that isn’t defined by her sexuality or motherhood. Most goddesses are depicted as mothers or lovers, like Demeter and Aphrodite. Women, traditionally, are valued for their beauty and their ability to give birth to and raise children. Athena was praised for her wisdom and skill. Athena didn’t want to be identified as a lover, she consciously chose to remain a virgin (her child wasn’t the result of sexual intercourse). Pallas Athena was fiercely independent. She was a healer and a warrior. She was feared by male warriors. Her wisdom and craftmanship was celebrated by all. Pallas Athena was one of the most important and honored deities in ancient Greece, even long after patriarchy was established. Her story shows how her identity changed as culture changed, certain parts of her identity we’re stripped away with the establishment of patriarchy. However, I dare to say she’s the one goddess that kept feminism alive through it all and to this day. She’s just waiting for a better time to unleash her inner Medusa again. The mythology of Pallas Athena is as painful as it is inspiring.
Buxton, R. (2004). The Complete World of Greek Mythology.
George, D. & D. Boch (2003). Asteroid Goddesses, The Mythology, Psychology and Astrology of the Re-emerging Feminine.
Kerénryi, C. (1951). The Gods of the Greeks.