Friday 26 September 2014

Extract: Naming the Goddess - Eris

A book that I am very proud to have had a part in writing has been released today. It is called Naming the Goddessand is published by Moon Books.

Naming the Goddess was a collaborative project by more than 80 scholars and followers of goddess spirituality and is partly a series of essays about contemporary goddess issues and partly a gazetteer of goddesses. My contribution was a chapter about Eris, goddess of chaos. Here is an extract:

Eris Greek mythology, the goddess of discord, the sister of Ares, and, according to Hesiod, daughter of Nyx (night). Not being invited to
the marriage of Peleus, she revenged herself by means of the Golden Apple of discord.
[Brockhampton Reference Dictionary of Classical Mythology]

In her mythological and historical context, that short description sums up Eris’s main claim to fame. According to the much-told heroic epic of the ancient world, Eris was the Goddess who started the whole Trojan War. In a fit of pique at not being invited to a party all the other Gods were going to, she decided to get her own back. She threw into the room a golden apple inscribed “kallisti”, which means “To the fairest one”, knowing the deities would row over who should have it.

Hera, Athena and Aphrodite all wanted the glittering trophy. To solve the argument, Zeus asked Paris, the King of Troy’s son, to judge the contest. The three Goddesses tried to bribe him. More lad-about-the-walled-city than good leadership material, Paris declined Hera’s offer of political power and Athena’s offer of battle skills in favor of Aphrodite’s proffered chance to have the most beautiful woman in the world.

That was Helen, Menelaus of Sparta’s trouble and strife. The rhyming slang for wife might not have been coined in Ancient Greece, but Strife was Eris’s other name and trouble was what she was all about causing. The Trojan War ensued.

Roll on several thousand years to the 1950s and an all-night bowling alley in America where two young Californians were drinking coffee and discussing how to put the world to rights. “Solve the problem of discord,” said one, “and all other problems will vanish.” “Indeed,” said the other, “chaos and strife are the roots of all confusion.”

So they later wrote in the Principia Discordia,the sacred text of the Discordian Society. The book has the subtitle “How I found the Goddess, and what I did to her when I found her...” The Goddess they found was Eris, who appeared to them in a dreamlike vision as “a splendid woman whose eyes were as soft as feather and as deep as eternity itself, and whose body was the spectacular dance of atoms and universes.” And here is the charge of that Goddess:
I have come to tell you that you are free. Many ages ago, My consciousness left man, that he might develop himself. I return to find this development approaching completion, but hindered by fear and by misunderstanding.
You have built for yourselves psychic suits of armor, and clad in them, your vision is restricted, your movements are clumsy and painful, your skin is bruised, and your spirit is broiled in the sun.
I am chaos. I am the substance from which your artists and scientists build rhythms. I am the spirit with which your children and clowns laugh in happy anarchy. I am chaos. I am alive, and I tell you that you are free.
The Principia offers a very different view of Eris to that held by the Ancient Greeks. The modern-day Goddess honored by Erisians is a trickster deity of freedom and subversive humor rather than the cruel Goddess who loved warfare and battles.

Whether she is the same Goddess or whether there are actually two with the same name might bother theologians, but for Erisians inconsistencies like that are just part of the fun of working with Eris.
Another famous quote from the Principia covers potential flame war material of whether two incompatible things can both be true:
GP: Is Eris true?
M2: Everything is true.
GP: Even false things?
M2: Even false things are true.
GP: How can that be?
M2: I don’t know man, I didn’t do it.
There are many ways of interpreting the seeming impossibility of the idea that “Everything is true... Even the false things.” You can take it to mean that everyone has their own truth and we should respect each other’s ideas on religion or spirituality even if we don’t think their point of view makes sense. You can also take it as a koan – a paradox to be meditated on in an effort to escape intellectual reasoning and gain intuitive enlightenment. Or you can just take it as humor. The Principia Discordia is full of humor. It is quite likely the most humorous religious text ever written. Read it and have a good laugh. Eris gets the joke too.


Anonymous said...

I'm reviewing this book for Pagan Dawn magazine. I'll let you know when the review is published.

Badwitch said...

Thank you!