Minerva breathes, and Apollo guides me, and the nine Muses point out to me the Bears.” ~ Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy
I wonder if Dante was talking about Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, the constellation we call the Great Bear. Imagine the bears striding the heavens toward the Milky Way, the poet blinded by Apollo, shielding his eyes as the Muses point out the bears. And through it, behind it, moving it, imagine the swirling breath of Minerva. And riding her wake, an owl.
As Dante journeys beyond the sphere of the fixed stars towards the empyrean, he invokes the breath of Minerva: Ancient Goddess, traveller herself through time and space, from the remoteness of her Etruscan origins to these present musings.
Like Dante, we can invoke Minerva as we embark upon our own journeys.
Minerva spans the centuries, from the ancient Etruscans who knew her first as a moon goddess by the name Menerwa, to the Greeks who knew her as Athena, patroness of Athens, to the Romans who called her Minerva and adopted her as the virgin goddess of wisdom, and finally to us. Minerva is wise and knowing, a great strategic warrier, while also a champion of civilization from the aspect of the feminine. Minerva presides over the arts, inspiration, legal justice, music, poetry, crafts, weaving, the power to heal, and magic.
Athena/Minerva was supposedly born from the head of Jupiter-or his Greek counterpart Zeus, depending on who is telling the story.
Could there have been such a birth? Could she have sprung from her father’s head in full battle attire? Her mother was a Titan, and at the time of her conception, Zeus/Jupiter feared the half remembered prophecy that his child would overthrow him. So he devoured the mother, who occupied herself within him by forging armor and weapons, which caused him an awful headache. He relieved it with a hammer blow from Vulcan, the blow which released the fully mature Athena/Minerva.
It seems the father is receiving an awful lot of the credit, but what of the mother?
Her mother’s name was Metis, which means wisdom, and the parents of Metis were older even than Zeus. Important in her own right, Metis was the child of Oceanus, who embodies the sea from which all life sprang, and his sister Thetys, mother also of fresh water and nursing. Metis was the first important wife of Zeus/Jupiter. While she was wise, clever in the Greek style made famous by Odysseus, and prudent, offering counsel to Zeus, she was also a threat to Zeus, due to the prophecy that her children would be more powerful than Zeus himself.
The legend of Zeus eating his pregnant wife recalls the legend of Cronus eating his children, and leads to notions of reproduction that don’t require women. It points to a denial of the most basic fact of existence: women are life-givers, and it reflects the ancient half remembered shift human society made from matrilineal to patrilineal organization. We see this notion repeated through time again and again, and it underpins the Abrahamic religions we know today as in Genesis where a male god creates all life.
This is really about the feminine life force, the wisdom of the feminine, the wisdom of life’s journey, the wisdom represented by Minerva and ushered forth by her owl.
Back to Ursa Major, the bear, known as a great mother. As protectress of her cubs she is a warrior, while she is also a shamanic symbol of great power, an ancient talisman, intuitively wise, looked to by our earliest ancestors who first saw her in the night sky.
Contemplate the Bear in the night sky, note her proximity to the Milky Way, river of celestial mother’s milk.
Back to the owl, also revered as protector by the Greeks, riding the winds as Athena’s companion, another talisman of wisdom, to become the handmaid of Minerva as the Romans adopted the earlier cult of Athena to their own parthenon.
Dante feels the breath of the Goddess. It accompanies his journey.
Can you feel Minerva’s Breath?
Commune with the night sky, follow the Muses lead, find the big dipper, Ursa Major, stride the heavens with the bear, drink of the Milky Way, embarque upon the journey.
Order Minerva’s Owls by Mary Petiet