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Athena v Demeter: Work and Family

Dr. Helen Johnson

11 Sept 2014

One of the most liberating things about the Goddesses is that they enable us to have a dialogue with the...

One of the most liberating things about the Goddesses is that they enable us to have a dialogue with the competing aspects of ourselves. By thinking of these parts of ourselves as Goddesses with distinct characters, needs and motivations, it is easier to reconcile our inner conflicts and really listen to what each has to say.  Needless to say, two Goddesses that really need to sit down with a cup of tea (I’m sure Goddesses like a good cuppa) and talk things over are the Goddesses Athena and Demeter… We are all too familiar with their debate, which centres on how to balance and prioritise work and family.

Athena women are career driven. An Athena mother feels strongly that her career success is necessary to set a good example for her children. It is also necessary to keep her sane and happy. She may feel threatened by Demeter. Firstly, because Demeter represents a mothering role that for too long was forced upon women at the expense of all else. Secondly, because she may feel hurt by suggestions that Demeter’s style is the only and proper form of ‘good’ mothering. This can result in Athena seeking to denigrate and belittle Demeter in order to preserve her own values and self-esteem. Athena may suggest that Demeter women are wasting their talents and exist only for the benefit of others.

Demeter women, on the other hand, truly thrive and enjoy the act of mothering in itself.  They find richness and fulfilment in the tasks and detail of truly nurturing others. For a Demeter woman, these things are satisfying and the kind of work that attracts Athena women would simply feel less meaningful to her. Nevertheless, she can be intimidated by the outspoken warrior Athena woman who fearlessly strides through life without concern or respect for vulnerability, which Demeter makes her mission to transform into strength. For Demeter, Athena women are selfish, hard and misguided, investing their values in things that offer little reward in Demeter’s eyes.

In our society, we are constantly reminded of the opposition of Demeter and Athena, as if these two Goddesses simply cannot get along.  There is an enormous amount of stress and anxiety about balancing these two energies and people can feel very strongly that one or the other is the ‘morally right’ way of living. But this perspective is simply false. Any human being must face the challenge of balancing different aspects of their life. It is not easy and may involve sacrifice.

However, we must let go of the idea that to make a choice means that the alternative must be in some sense ‘wrong’ or ‘lesser’.  Neither Goddess type need feel that their decision needs to be defended by denigrating the other. It is simply preference – and sometimes, practicalities can constrain even that.

Demeter’s style of nurturing is effective and rewarding but it is not the same as, nor is it the only way to, love. Each Goddess has an enormous capacity for love expressed in different ways. Athena women make great contributions to culture, civilization and social progress but that does not mean that every woman must make the same contribution in the same way. Further, these Goddesses have much to offer each other. Athena women can sometimes forget to foster their Demeter side even towards themselves (microwave meals anyone…?!). Demeter women may find the gifts of

Athena bring new and interesting aspects to their lives that help them to keep their sense of self. This is particularly important at times of loss when those they nurture are ready to be more independent. Many women can and do find harmony between these Goddess energies in their lives. In truth, by seeking balance and learning from one another, the opposition of these two Goddesses can be the basis of a wonderful union.

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