The Greek goddess Athena is usually portrayed as one of the most benevolent goddesses, strong, fair, and merciful. In Greek mythology, Athena was, in essence, the prototype of the contemporary “career woman.”
Athena is known as one of the three virgin goddesses, referred to as virgins, because they were able to remain independent, unswayed by the spells of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and the consequent pull of marriage and motherhood. Romance and marriage did not feature in Athena’s myths.
The Birth of Athena
It was the headache to end all headaches! When Zeus learned that his first wife, Metis, was pregnant, he feared that she was carrying the son that had been prophesied to supplant him on the throne. That’s why he decided to swallow her!
Though swallowing Metis had seemed a good idea at the time, he regretted it, and it was now causing him great suffering, which eventually proved to be totally unnecessary. He suffered from an extreme headache, and nothing seemed to help…
Ready to risk anything to eliminate the pain that tormented him, he allowed one of the other gods to split open his head, and voila! Out came not the son he feared but a beautiful full-grown daughter dressed in golden battle armor, who instantly became the “apple of her father’s eye.”
Father’s Favorite Child
A motherless child, the goddess Athena quickly became Zeus’ favorite. Athena was the only one of his children that Zeus ever entrusted with his magic shield and the secret of where his lightning bolts were stored. The goddess Athena remained his constant ally and fierce protector, promoting his interests and serving as his advisor.
The Goddess Of War
Although usually depicted holding a spear, her golden helmet pushed back to reveal her elegant beauty, the Greek goddess Athena was known more for her role as judge, diplomat, and mediator than for actually fighting in battle. Her decisions were renowned for their fairness and compassion.
The goddess Athena was a superb strategist, and many of the Greek myths recount tales of her help given to various gods, goddesses, and heroes as they went into battle or faced seemingly impossible tests.
Although she was widely known in one of her roles as “Athena Goddess of War”, it was as a mediator and a planner that she excelled. She always worked to prevent war, but once the war had been joined, the goddess Athena fought efficiently for her side.
To prevent the Trojan War, Athena descended from Olympus and walked between the two armies, making both sides swear oaths to keep the peace. Unfortunately, a Trojan soldier named Pandaros, in the act of great cowardice, violated his oath and let loose his arrow, thus starting the Trojan War.
Athena, the Goddess of strategy, expressed her displeasure by helping the other side to emerge victorious. Remember the Trojan Horse? Just one of Athena’s great ideas!
The Greek goddess Athena championed many heroes, offering them her advice and protection, helping them to win their battles. In one of her most famous adventures, Athena assumes the shape of various men, women, and children to guide the wandering Odysseus.
Her protection allowed the suffering hero to return safely to his home and family finally. Nike, the goddess who personified Winged Victory, often accompanied Athena. Not surprising since “Athena, Goddess of War,” never lost a battle.
The Goddess Of Wisdom
The Greek goddess Athena was frequently called upon to settle disputes between the gods or various mortals. “Athena, Goddess of Wisdom,” was known for her superb logic and intellect.
Her decisions were usually well-considered, highly ethical, and seldom motivated by self-interest. Not only did the goddess Athena’s decisions demonstrate her wisdom, but they reveal her great compassion as well.
The Goddess Of Crafts
A goddess of many talents, “Athena, the Goddess of Crafts,” was an expert artisan herself. The goddess Athena was celebrated as the patron of weavers, potters, goldsmiths, sculptors, musicians, and horsemen. Athena was credited with inventing the yoke and the bridle, the sailing ship, and the flute and trumpet.
Relationship With Other Deities and Mortals
Other women, however, seldom feature as allies in the stories of Athena, who seems to have been firmly accepted as part of the patriarchy.
The most notable exception was her childhood friend, a girl called Pallas. The two, both tomboyish, were inseparable as children, practicing their fighting skills and sharing playful adventures.
Once during a practice session, according to Greek mythology, Athena accidentally wounded Pallas. The injury eventually proved fatal. In deep grief over the loss of her friend, Athena took Pallas’ name to add to hers. Thereafter she was often referred to as Pallas Athena in honor of her childhood friend.
Once, when a man called Teiresias accidentally walked in upon the goddess Athena while she was bathing (an act usually punished by death), Athena took pity on the poor mortal. Not wishing his death, she instead covered his eyes with her hands, thus simultaneously blinding him and giving him “inner sight,” i.e., the gift of prophecy. As a result, he became one of the most revered oracles in ancient Greece.
Athena and Arachne
Logical by nature, the goddess Athena rarely lost her cool. One exception to this, where she became “hot-headed” and again sided with the male power structure, is told in the story of Arachne. The young mortal woman who challenged Athena to a contest to see who was the best weaver.
The goddess Athena was not at all upset about being challenged by a mortal and fairly judged Arachne’s creation to be as flawless as her own. However, the subject matter of Arachne’s tapestry offended her greatly, for Arachne had depicted the amorous and adulterous adventures of Zeus, Athena’s father.
Livid that Arachne would dare to mock authority in such a way, Athena slashed the tapestry to shreds and drove Arachne to hang herself. When she had quieted her emotions, Athena took pity on the poor woman. Therefore she let her live on by transforming her into a spider, weaving her beautiful webs for eternity.
Athena’s Role In Perpetuating Patriarchy
The Greek goddess Athena identified with the patriarchy and usually cast her power and support on their side during any dispute. Motherless herself, the goddess Athena for instance usually placed patriarchal principles above maternal bonds.
In the first jury trial in recorded history, she cast the deciding vote to acquit Orestes of murdering his mother to avenge his father’s death. Athena was persuaded by Apollo’s argument in Orestes’ defense. apollo claiming that the death of a mother was less important than a father’s death. Reasoning that since the woman simply nurtured the seed while it was actually the man who planted it.
The name of the Greek goddess Athena remains with us to this day since Athens, Greece, was named in her honor. An appreciation of her gift to them, the olive tree. She is recognized as the protector of cities.
More than any other of the Greek goddesses, Athena remains a symbol of civilization, useful knowledge, noble reasoning, logic, and wisdom. She reminds us that we can successfully use our intellect and creativity to pursue any goal we choose.
Athena, also known as Pallas Athene and the Roman goddess Minerva, is often represented by symbols associated with her wisdom and leadership. It isn’t surprising that many of the ikons representing civilization are derived from her ancient symbols.
Athena was usually depicted wearing a golden shield and helmet. Because of that those are the items that are most often used to symbolize this goddess. Although she was also the goddess of wisdom and crafts, she was best known as the goddess of war. So representing her with a shield and helmet for instance is a good idea.
Her other symbols are the sun, spear, spindle, bowl, intertwined snakes, the Parthenon, the seven auras, and the Number 7.
Owls are animals that are often associated with Athena because they symbolize wisdom, one of her main characteristics. Doves, as symbols of victory, are another common symbol of Athena, as she was a great warrior and even greater strategist that emerged victorious from her battles.
Other animals that symbolize Athena are rams, eagles, tigers, leopards, and other cats.
Tiger lilies are beautiful flowers that symbolize pride, good fortune, positivity, and confidence. As such, they are a great symbol of the goddess Athena because she was proud and confident, and good fortune seemed to follow her around.
Other plants that symbolize her are geranium, oak, cypress, olive tree, Hellebore (Christmas and Lenten rose), and citrus tree.
Patchouli, dragon’s blood, musk, indigo, orange blossom, cinnamon, and cedarwood are scents and perfumes that can be used to symbolize Athena. Since she was no ordinary goddess, she couldn’t be associated with ordinary scents, such as floral ones. Musk notes are much more suitable for this goddess.
Gems and Metals
Onyx is a symbol of protection, strength, and hidden potential in people. This gem awakens the wisdom, intuition, and judgment in those who wear it. As such, it is a perfect symbol of Athena, as she was the goddess of wisdom after all.
Other gems that can be used to symbolize her are ruby, star sapphire, turquoise, gold, lapis lazuli, and ivory.
In most of the artistic depictions, Athena is depicted wearing gold, orange, yellow, emerald green, and royal blue, and this is why these colors can be used as her symbols.
Meditations To Invoke The Goddess Athena
- Goddess of wisdom, remind me that I can release all indecisiveness and move on with my life.
- I call on you, Athena, to help me to realize that my goals are attainable and that I can realize my visions.
- Goddess, guide me to build the right boundaries so I can relinquish any excessive reliance on others.
- Athena, remind me to be more productive and responsible in all that I do today.
- Great goddess, remind me that my value does not depend solely on my accomplishments.
- Thank you, goddess Athena, for sharing your happiness in working for the good of others.
- Athena, let me be like you, always expanding my mind and continuing to learn.
- Athena, make me aware of the importance of taking responsibility for those who look up to me.
- Athena, as the goddess of wisdom, help me to take charge and meet challenges straight on.
- Athena, remind me today that, like you, I am caring and have a good heart.
- Grant me your willingness to empower, support, and protect those you care about, Athena.
- Goddess of crafts, help me adorn my home and my workplace with beautiful objects lovingly crafted by the artisan’s hands.
- Goddess of crafts, help me adorn my home and my workplace with beautiful objects lovingly crafted by the artisan’s hands.
- Athena, show me how to release the limits I impose on myself and to get all the enjoyment I can out of life.
- Help me to be like you, Athena, sure of my own adequacy and unafraid of failure.
- Great goddess, help me fulfill my promise by developing my natural talents.
- Lend me your inner strength and ability to fight back, Athena, so that I can become more independent and self-reliant.
Want To Bring More Athena Qualities Into Your Life?
- Read a book, a serious book of nonfiction, from cover to cover. If this is not your usual fare, try to pick one on a subject that is of special interest to you.
- Participate in some bodywork (any kind, but consider something usually thought of as “masculine,” like one of the martial arts ). Use it to increase your strength, flexibility, and confidence.
- Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and let everyone else know what pleases you (and what doesn’t). Everyone knew just where they stood with Athena, and they should with you as well.
- Don’t hesitate to make decisions, even important ones. If you find this difficult, start with the small ones. You choose the movie and decide where you go to dinner instead of automatically letting someone else decide.
- Get in touch with your personal goals. Make a list of five things you’d like to accomplish. They could be personal or professional goals. Each goal should be about something important to you.
- Join a book club. Take a college course you might be interested in. Do something to develop your intellectual skills.
- Trust yourself to be who you are without compromise or apology.
- Develop some skills that are traditionally masculine in nature. Learn to change the oil in your car. Chop wood. Know that you can survive without a man to look after you!
- Dress in Athena’s colors and keep a small statue or painting of an owl in a prominent place. Surround yourself with Athena’s symbols.
If you enjoyed this post we are sure you will enjoy getting to know some of the other goddesses we also write about. You can find the complete list of goddesses sorted across regions and religions here.
Featured Image Credit: Louvre Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons