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Warrior Archetypes II: Athena - Warrior As Strategist

The Greek goddess Athena was, in her earliest incarnations, a weather goddess associated with storm and lightning. Her aegis, or great shield, in her earliest days represented the stormy night. Although she eventually lost her meteorological associations, she still partakes of the Air element’s attributes; she is cool, clear, rational, objective, and works in the world of Mind rather than Body or Mind or Heart. She was born from her father’s head, as he tricked her mother into turning into a fly and then swallowed her; she burst forth less like a baby and more like an idea, fully armed and ready to go.

Athena’s dual roles as Wise Counselor and Battle Goddess, often wrongly seen as mutually exclusive, show that she is the strategist rather than the tactician. She can see all the way to the end of the battle and beyond - not just how it will be won, but what will have to happen then so that order can be restored. She is ruthless and clear-eyed, her gaze on the goal and all her will behind the battle. Athena gives the ability to plan brilliantly and execute things that no one else would have thought of. Athena warriors are intellectuals first. Their spears are their intellect; their swords are their ideals; their shields are their convictions. They intend to change the world, and they often do, to the chagrin of the slower people in it.

One of the most interesting things about Athena is that she is one of the only two cross-dressing gods in the Olympian pantheon; the other being Dionysus. Athena is shown either in full armor, which was a man’s prerogative, or in a simple male chiton, such as would have been worn under armor. She is sometimes shown in a full woman’s robe, but it is usually undecorated and concealing, and she tends to keep her helmet on. Her gender-bending goes even further than this, though; she says, “I am for the man in all things, save for marriage,” and she means it. Everything men does, she does, except for sex, which she has none of. However, she doesn’t forswear all female arts; she is the patroness of weaving, a traditional female craft, and is traditionally attributed the gift of breathing creative life into craftwork.

In this way, she bridges male and female, an androgynous goddess who doesn’t see why the limitations of the body should make any difference to your actions. She also doesn’t seem to care about whether the other gods on Olympus like or dislike her unusual gender arrangements; her individuality is more important to her than the opinions of others. On the other hand, it is often true that androgynous, non-breeding archetypes (and people) are also very creative in other ways, as if their dammed procreativity is forced into other channels. Athena as Goddess of crafts - patron of architects, sculptors, fiber artists - echoes her gift of creativity and inspiration. At the Panathenaeum, her yearly festival, arts and crafts of many different kinds were shown and judged in contests.

Athena also rewards the gender-crossing Tiresias, who in a spirit of exploration offered to be a test subject of the gods: agreeing to spend seven years as a woman after being raised a man, s/he was called before the Olympians to decide which gender had the greater pleasure during sex. When s/he confessed that women had it better in the matter of pure physical pleasure, Hera, the Goddess of Marriage, struck hir blind. Athena apparently could not undo the damage, but she stepped in and quietly gave Tiresias the gift of prophecy.

Athena is a sworn virgin, but her virginity is very different from that of the other virgin goddesses. Artemis and Hestia both keep well away from the world of men; Artemis and her nymphs in the wild forest in protective bands, and Hestia in the monastic withdrawal of the honored elder. Athena, on the other hand, is not only unafraid of the company of men (or anyone else), she prefers men as her chosen companions. She seems to have no fear for the safety of her virginity, and every confidence in her ability to effortlessly protect it. In fact, the very idea that her virginity could be threatened seems impossible for her to conceive. No statue ever shows her naked. No sculptor would ever dare.

The virginity of Artemis and the virginity of Hestia both hold back from male society because they know that they have something to lose. They see the breach of that boundary as a violation, of freedom on Artemis’s part, and privacy on Hestia’s. Athena, on the other hand, does not believe that she could lose. Her gift is that unshakable intellectual certainty, the ability to rise above one’s tumultuous emotions and see the objective view. When you’re flying in the sky, all those fears that pursued you on the ground seem awfully far away, much smaller and easier to ignore. It’s a kind of confidence that many overly-emotional people could well use.

As an example of this certainty, Hephaestus, the blacksmith god, gets it into his head to ravish her. He does not even manage to get under her tunic; ejaculating against her leg is the best he can do in the split-second before she irritably fends him off. The semen falls impotently to the ground, where it becomes a baby, Erichthonius. Athena decides that abandoning the little mistake to die would be unfair, and she fosters him out to mortal parents. She does not raise the child herself, nor even consider it. Although she can be kind and thoughtful, Athena is not much known for parental nurturing.

Athena is the archetypal detached warrior, but there is a dark side to this nature. An Athena warrior can live so much in their head that they completely forget that other people have needs or feelings. The rest of humanity can become annoying statistics to be shuffled, filed, or even destroyed. The far end of this kind of thinking can create the general who sees his troops as bodies to be used up, or the scientist who sees people as bodies to be experimented on, or the business-person who sees people as consumers to be exploited for every penny. Not a few CEOs are Athena-type warriors, and not infrequently they got there through coldly stepping on a whole lot of heads along the way. Athena-type warriors can also make lousy lovers - remember that Athena was an eternal virgin - because they tend to build a wall around them through which few emotions pass. As long as that wall is in place, they can go on ignoring feelings in favor of goals.

This makes it all the more dramatic when the wall of detachment is breached. When an Athena-type warrior finds him or herself in love (or hate), it takes them completely by surprise. It wasn’t that they didn’t expect to love or hate this person, it’s that they didn’t expect it to feel like this. This being, of course, intense and messy and uncontrollable. Generally, it makes them profoundly uncomfortable. They behave erratically, and do things all out of proportion to the situation. Their normally objective judgment is thrown completely off. If they are moved to anger, they indulge in ten minutes of total scorched-earth rage and stagger off, refusing to believe that they actually did something that irrational, and then try to deny it or explain it away with a tortuous “rational” argument.

As an example of this, Athena’s greatest love and loyalty seem to be for her father, Zeus. She is very much Daddy’s girl, and it is true that Athena types have often preferred the stereotypically masculine world of logic, science, and numbers to the stereotypically feminine world of feelings and images. However, Athena seems entirely blind to Zeus’s bad behavior and negative qualities; she simply chooses not to see them. When Arachne spitefully illustrates a tapestry with a long cartoon litany of Zeus’s Most Stupid Stunts, she hits Athena’s most painfully irrational button, and the cool, detached goddess reacts with uncharacteristic fury, screaming and shredding the tapestry, changing the hapless Arachne into a spider, and stalking off in a huff. I’m sure that every god on Olympus would have paid to see that loss of control.

On her shield, her aegis, Athena wears the Gorgon head, the sight of which turns people to cold stone. Athena-type people are often seen as lacking in human warmth, and as such, they make people around them feel distant and frozen as well. The Gorgon-eye of cold scientific inquiry can be pretty intimidating, and does not encourage closeness and bonding. These warriors need to bring their human genius down to the level of the instinctual animal, or it will never be taken seriously by more instinctual people, like the ones that hold the checkbook for funding their brilliant ideas, or the ones that they happen to be living with.

Above all else, however, Athena was the Goddess of Wisdom, with her owl symbol, and it is this that she is best remembered for. As Wise Counselor, she cautions one to think carefully before acting, check your facts, don’t jump to conclusions, make sure your resources are in order, create checklists, objectively analyze yourself, your opponent, and your goal, and find allies who will aid you in your quest. Athena loves heroes. If you draw on her energy, she will expect you to go out and be one, whether you want to or not. In the Iliad, she appears to Odysseus - her favorite hero, as he used his wits rather than merely his brawn - as an old man named Mentor. That name worked its way down through the centuries until it has become a synonym for the ally who aids and teaches you. Athena is the ultimate Mentor, as long as you are willing to accept her offer to become a hero in the end.

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