When I was a university student, I went to Greece every summer to dig at archaeological sites. To the romantic at heart, like me, this sounds very glamorous and exciting, but in reality it involved many hours in the hot sun, working away with pickaxes and trowels, covered in dust and dirt, clinging to the last bit of shade before the 40 degree sun reached full power. So yes, it was exciting (most of the time), but not at all glamorous, and I loved (almost) every moment of it.
Not to get too technical (because, frankly, I can’t remember the scholarly details anymore) but one summer when I was digging at a site right in downtown Athens, we came upon an abandoned well that had been filled with debris when the Persians sacked the city in 480 BCE. It was narrow and deep, and despite a history of mild claustrophobia I eagerly took my turn to put on a helmet, and be lowered down on a rope with a bucket to see what I could find. Each willing digger only had a few moments in that blissfully cool and weirdly silent place to scrabble at the walls of the well and get whatever bits of pottery or other treasures they could into the bucket before they were hauled back up into the sunshine. It was awesome.
Later, as I was gently washing mud off some of the broken pieces of pottery brought up from the well, I had a discovery that was very minor by academic standards, but enormous for me. As the grit slid away from the sherd I was holding, the painted head of a female figure wearing a helmet began to appear. I was seeing an image of the goddess Athena that hadn’t been seen for more than 2,000 years. It was a pretty rough, stylized partial image, but that was enough for me. It was love.
The Birth of the Goddess Athena
Long before that day in Athens, and long beyond it, I have had great admiration for and deep attachment to the goddess, Athena. I have loved her since Clash of the Titans (the original version, of course), through two graduate degrees, and through my Tarot studies, and I keep coming back to her.
Athena entered the world with a bang. Her origin story goes that Zeus, king of the Gods, had an illicit encounter with Metis, a Titan of wisdom and craftiness. Fearing a prophecy that said her children would be more powerful than their father, Zeus swallowed the pregnant Metis whole. In due time, Zeus began to experience a literally splitting headache, followed by the fully grown Athena springing from his head, dressed in golden armor and helmet and brandishing a spear. She really knew how to make an entrance.
Athena is depicted as fierce, beautiful and aloof, the bright-eyed virgin goddess who was never drawn into romantic intrigue or drama. Although she is a warrior goddess, she doesn’t advocate wanton violence, preferring that conflict be solved by wise counsel and diplomacy rather than battle. She was the trusted advisor of Herakles, Perseus and Odysseus, epic heroes who wouldn’t have gotten very far without her assistance. Athena is also the goddess of philosophy, and household arts such as spinning and weaving. Stories about Athena’s interactions with mortals, particularly the sad tale of Medusa, show that she has a frighteningly strict moral code, and was quick to punish any insult to herself or the other gods.
Virgin or Mother?
Athena is often accompanied by an owl on her shoulder and a snake coiled at her feet, and she won the patronage of Athens by giving them the most useful of gifts, the olive tree. All of these connections to the earth and fertility strongly suggest that Athena started out as a Mother Goddess but was changed to a virgin goddess clearly lower in rank to Zeus, the King of the Gods, by the patriarchal Greeks. The strange story of her birth also brushes away the fact that she was the daughter of an ancient goddess of wisdom, and suggests that her intelligence and skill in battle originate from her father only.
Let’s get back to Tarot – Athena as the Justice Card
Athena is often associated with the Justice card. This is partially tied to the story that she convinced the Furies, terrifying winged avenging goddesses, to end the cycle of blood for blood by making them the guardians of justice rather than vengeance, and brought the idea of due legal process to the city of Athens. Athena is intellect over emotion, and follows a strict code of truth and morality. She believes that actions have consequences and that decisions should be fair and impartial. This is not to say that she is unkind or merciless, but she values being true to yourself and others above all. These attributes make her a good fit with the Justice card, which is also concerned with truth, balance, impartiality and law.
Athena and the Queens
I also see connections between Athena and the Queen of Swords. Like the Queen of Swords, Athena is an intellectual communicator, and emotions play a lesser role in decision making. They both tend to be fair, but can fall into jealousy and vindictive behavior. On a lesser note, this Queen is often seen as a widow, and Athena is never linked to a consort or lover.
Comparisons can also be drawn between the Queen of Wands and Athena. They share boundless self confidence and personal power, and are fierce fighters. However, I always see the Queen of Wands as a charismatic woman who follows her passions, while Athena is much more aloof and removed.
Tapping into Athena’s Energy
You can call upon Athena’s energy when you need to remain impartial in an emotional situation, or if circumstances are making it difficult for you to stay true to yourself and your own beliefs. If you are being pressured by others to do something that doesn’t seem completely ethical to you, think of Athena’s unyielding confidence and sense of right and wrong.
If meditation works for you, take a quiet moment, pull Justice from your deck, breathe deeply and slowly and just really look at the card. Let your eyes relax, try to let go of your thoughts, and explore what catches your attention. If you have a question that is bothering you, ask the figure on the card what she thinks! Relax, listen, and when you’re ready, bring your thoughts back into the present.
Athena’s Decision Making Spread
If you are in a situation where you have to choose between two options, but you aren’t sure which is the best choice, try this spread:
1. The Truth of Your Current Situation: where you are now, why you are in a position of having to make this decision
2. Your Hoped for Outcome: Even though you aren’t sure which choice is the best one, this is what you are truly hoping will be the outcome
3. Choice Number One: insight into the true nature of choice number one, aspects that you may not be aware of, things you should know
4. Choice Number Two: insight into the true nature of choice number two, aspects that you may not be aware of, things you should know
5. Probable Outcome from Choice Number One: What is likely to happen if you choose Choice Number One. See how this matches up with card number 2, your hoped for outcome
6. Probable Outcome from Choice Number Two: What is likely to happen if you choose Choice Number Two. See how this matches up with card number 2, your hoped for outcome
Thoughts on Athena and Justice
Can you resonate with the Goddess Athena, or the Justice card? What do you feel when Justice appears in your Tarot spread?
Other Goddesses and Tarot
This post is the first in a Goddess series, and the lead-up to a bigger project that I’m working on. Let me know if there is a Goddess who you have a particular affinity with, and I’ll see how she appears in the Tarot!