To Athene, In Apology

So, last week, I gave a service at my local Unitarian Universalist Society about Athene, in honor of the beginning of the new calendar, the democratic process, and many other things I hold dear. To prepare for that service, I read the Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World volume on Athene (well, actually, about half of it) and compiled other information from various sources I have read more closely over the past 10 years.

The night before the service, I used some pejorative language to refer to the fact that I had to print out a lot of things. I instantly regretted it. Those are the kinds of careless words that are actually religiously meaningful when preparing a service in honor of a goddess. I used divination — via pendulum — to ask Athene if that was a meaningful slight. It was. As an apology, I wrote four poems (OK, and an interlude) that I offered today, one week later, at home.

The poems were read aloud to Athene and accompanied by offerings of incense and a sponde of olive oil. As a note, this was a proper sponde — olive oil shots are delicious. If you are in a position to use high-quality olive oil for religious purposes, it’s peppery heaven.

I am posting this because I think that praise to gods should be public in most cases.

I. Opening

Strong-voiced Athene, champion of Heaven
who stands proud at the lightning-bearer’s side,
would that I could hymn you as deftly as those
psalm-paraphrasing women we read, tomes
marking out a space where women could write
without fear of their male kin’s reprisal.
Religion has always been an enclave
veiling women so we can move freely.
They wrote those devotional poems and prayed.
Long before them, women took up weaving.
Women wove and carried your sacred gifts,
garments to adore your gleaming statue.
Well-hymned Athene, in these woven words,
I come up to the image of your shrine.
Creatrix of law, codes, regulations,
and the juries that rule humans and gods,
cities weep when you show them your judgment.
Virginal and austere, you lift up ones
whom you love and cast out the offensive.
Bright-eyed Athene, Olympian, come —
pivot away the aegis on your chest!
Leave those weapons in your relations’ care.
Come, whether your attention is in courts
or governmental halls of great countries.
Come, O lover of learning and its halls,
you who hold up philosophers and grant
quick thought and cunning alongside Hermes.
Come, O Athene, to this place, accept
these words lain out at a devotee’s shrine.

II. Thoughts on Deacy’s Athena

It is night, Athene,
quiet at this shrine where your
icon stands covered in the piece I made,
blue as the harbors you protect,
gray-trimmed like your calm eyes.

Athene, vexations
swirl me about, analysis
I never knew before — it accused you,
said you had betrayed all women,
diced you into pieces.

This has occupied me,
glowing candle-steady, and now
I want to hymn you and weave other tales.
You are more than a plot device
steering along strong men.

Goddess, when I found you,
I loved you instantly and saw
you knew what being the Girl among boys
meant: making a hard shell over
unwillingly touched skin.

That takes strength, Athene.
It requires fortitude to take
battering ram words from other women.
I know how hard striking balance
in those moments can be.

It still mystifies me:
Why did those mortal women call
themselves better than you? You built cities.
To them, it made you less skillful
at the loom. Shame on them.

You protected people
like Nikandra, a weaver who
needed to feed her family with wages
she earned by spinning long hours.
That aid helped buy her bread.

That nuance explains why
criticism against you hits
sore nerves in my heart, but I keep reading
because something in there
must be fit for your shrine.

It is night, Athene,
and I offer up thoughts for you
out of a promise I made due to careless
words spoken — because you deserve
respect. It’s what you’re owed.

III. Interlude

Three, which we
name sacred.
counts out three.
Three, the day
set down by
to be yours.

This playful
troubled thoughts
from what comes:
Praise, stories,
and still more.

IV. To the Foresightful, Inventive One

Mêkhanitis, from wherever you roam,
be it mountainous Olympos held dear by all,
senatorial hallways, your Athenian overlook,
or a secret place where you, done with battle,
remove that glorious armor and set down
sword and spear to wash the blood away —
come, O you who are good at strategy,
advice-giver, protector, sharp-sighted maiden,
you who govern all things according to plan.
O Aider of Girls, you instruct all in practical
measures for increasing industriousness.
You, Mêkhanitis, worked with Orion’s daughters,
and the tapestries they wove revolve in Heaven.
You, Mêkhanitis, work with all inventors,
teaching us what must be done in our crafts,
setting the power of the mind to demarcate
our creations and imbue them with skill.
To you we make libations of your sacred oil;
from you, we have the holy scent of olives
seeping into our thirsty skin, parched throats,
and tired muscles, until we become supple,
quick-bodied and quick-thinking, foresightful,
all thanks to the blessings of that first tree.
Illustrious Parthenos, you elevate souls,
soothing the body so that we may write thoughts
according to reason with smoothness in our hands.
Please, O Goddess, accept this prayer of praise.
May your favor be as sweet as the delicious,
grassy oil you have given for our benefit.

V. To Athene Mêkhanitis

The incense burns down, Athene,
on this shrine where your offerings
pile, ash over ash, in the bowl.
Mêkhanitis rolls from my tongue.
This epithet makes me think of you
alone, your luminous face glowing,
lit only by orange-red emergency
lighting on the walls of your lab.
It evokes smoke-curling images
where you draft out designs on
large papers spread across tables.
I see you building, fingers tipped
with grease, aegis facing backwards
so people are afraid to interrupt.
Women’s work has changed so much.
Wherever we work with deft hands
belongs under your wide shield.
Women streamed into factories and
offices where we typed up notes
or fed garments through machines
— always with accurate posture —
and on to other places where we
make our studios, writing desks,
law firms, and highway truck homes.
We still manage households at night,
defend ourselves from those who want
actions brushed aside and not seen,
and deal with those who would slight
our achievements as worth less.
I see you, Mêkhanitis, diligently
working until the night grows drowsy.
You watch over women who come home,
O gray-eyed one, and direct wrath
towards those who would harm us.
Women are steel-hearted and invent
ways to economize and pare down,
essentializing things that once took
all of our ancestors’ long days.
These are devotions to you, Athene,
at the shrines we call city streets,
the temples we transform from offices,
complete with desks where we offer
time and roadways where we chariot race.
Mêkhanitis, austere and finely-clad,
professional patron and guide,
you have brought me so far in my love.
What I know about wisdom, you taught me.
You have set lightning in my head,
so fast is this storm of thoughts.
I thank you for the breaths curving
my ribcage and diaphragm, the incense
I can purchase due to your favor,
and the many opportunities you grant.
The incense has burned down,
and still my hands face outward
towards the icon at your shrine.


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