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Knowledge is an essential ritual tool. Most magickal practitioners spend considerable time and energy learning things esoteric, yet do not use mundane resources and skills to inform their practice. Research, the critical review of a topic and the body of knowledge attached to it, is one of the mundane resources being underused. The research process looks and sound more difficult than it actually is - all that is required is a modicum of literacy, a willingness to think critically, and time. Research can provide the practitioner with ideas for rites, offerings specific to the deity, and insight into the character and context of divinity and her worshippers.

The most important issue in doing research is to distinguish and specify what the information you've uncovered means to you versus what it meant in the particular time and place it was used. Information that has a long history of use or was used over a wide geographical area may have many different meanings in each of those times or places. In addition, the same information can be understood differently by different people even though they are in the same time or place, depending on such issues as class, gender, education, culture of origin, professional training, and political bias.

There is nothing inherently wrong or incorrect in assigning your own twentieth century understandings to historical information. The difficulty lies in confusing these with historical reality. For example, in her book Luna: Myth and Mystery, Kathleen Cain claims that the Minoans worshipped a moon goddess. She even cites a reputable scholarly source. However, Ms Cain is incorrect. There is no evidence that the Minoans linked deities and celestial events or bodies. Ms Cain's source actually states that the Minoan goddess was offered garlands of lilies. She interprets this accurate statement to mean that the goddess was linked to the moon because in the twentieth century neo-pagan world of Ms Cain lilies are rampant in what passes for neo-pagan research, and makes neo-pagans who uncritically accept them look ignorant at best. This kind of bias is entirely avoidable if the researcher scrupulously examines, and then separates, her understandings from the evidence she discovers in the research process. For Ms Cain to worship a goddess of the moon is appropriate; to say the Minoans did is unconscionable and inaccurate.

Sorting through the overlays of ethnocentric and egocentric interpretation of historical information can be a lengthy and frustrating task. For most people it is enough to check a source or two (without evaluating those sources), and work with the information presented therein; either discarding it because it conflicts with one's experience, or discarding experience because the "expert" says it's wrong. Evaluation of sources is a tricky business. Every author has a bias. Some are obvious or clearly stated; others require detective skills to uncover. Reading everything available on the topic and thinking critically and comparatively will pinpoint both bias and accuracy of information. There are enormous rewards to be had by sticking with this task, both in terms of intellectual satisfaction and of informed practice. If your interest lays in reconstructionism of any sort, this task cannot be avoided.

A related research task is the stripping away of the layers of political rewriting done by cultural conquerors that obscures, reverses, or modifies the older myths and understandings. The most obvious of these rewritings - yet the hardest to see beyond because it defines all accessible worldviews - is the patriarchy. But others exist as well. Caesar writing about the Celts is the conqueror writing about the enemy. Even if he respects the enemy's prowess he speaks only about his own understandings, not those of the enemy. We know so little about the Eleusinian Mysteries because only the uninitiated wrote of it. And the Thesmophoria, a festival open only to women, is inaccessible to us because Greek women could not write or publish. Unfortunately, these secondary sources are often our only known sources, so the researcher interested in going deeper is forced to speculate from the evidence; to become both sleuth and archeologist.

Furthermore, to see beyond these rewritings and reversals it is necessary to know something of the history of the people and places that form the context of your major research interest. For example, if you are interested in the worship or nature of a particular goddess at a particular time you will have to know something about her worship and nature just prior to and just after that time. In addition, you will have a passing acquaintence with the worship of other divinities, and of the religious system as a whole. Otherwise it is impossible to assess the relevance of the information you acquire. It's not enough to know what worshippers offered to their deity unless you also know how that offering fits into the worship of other deities of the same time and place. Identifying what is unique to a particular divinity or rite depends on breadth of knowledge, as well as depth.

My research into the worship and nature of Artemis illustrates many of these issues. Most of the modern, popular sources show her as a cross between a prepubescent girl and a slightly dykey, but well-endowed, woman-child. She carries a bow and arrow, hangs out with animals, and wears an enticingly short skirt. If the author is into the Amazon myth, then Artemis has one breast bare.

In even the best of the psycho-Jungian-magickal-archetype hype she is seen as the girl who avoids men, likes the woods, and has cross-gender interests (like being independent, one presumes). She is always associated with the moon, in either its first crescent or full phase. She is named, in some versions, of the charge of the goddess but rarely mentioned in pagan literature. She is always linked to the Roman Diana, and most pagans and pagan sources use the two names interchangeably. She is very popular with so-called feminist magical groups, mostly because they buy the popular image of her, and she fits their political agenda.


If one follows the hints and allegations buried in seminal and secondary sources (see recommended reading list), however, a very different picture emerges. Her history begins in the Paleolithic era, although her name in that time and place has been lost to us. She emerges clearly in the Anatolian and Minoan Neolithic and Minoan Bronze Ages. She is everywhere the Mistress of the Animals, but this designation is less narrow than modern understandings. She is the bestower of life, fertility, abundance, protection, and death for all living things: animal, plant, and human. Early depictions of Artemis never show her as a girl or maiden, but always as a fully grown woman in a long gown or chiton. She is sometimes armed, sometimes accompanied by snakes or hounds, often holds lions or deer by the neck or hind legs, is surrounded by fish, birds, and swastikas, and is often winged. She is Virgin, but not a virgin. During the Paleolithic and Neolithic she is never associated with a lover or consort (but then, none of the Goddesses were). She is not a child, a sex object, a little sister, or a dyke. She is a mature, autonomous female force embodying the birth-life-death cycle with which all living things must reckon.

As the cultures in which she originated were overtaken by migrations, natural disasters, and invasion she was assimilated into the newly evolving understandings, or rewritten entirely to mirror the cosmology of the newer power structure. Much as the Catholics found they could not purge the goddess and so accepted Mary as a subservient pseudo-deity, so the Dorians and later Greeks found they could not purge the Mistress of the Animals. So they did what any self-respecting power-holder does, they rewrote and reversed her myths, spheres of influence, and cultural meaning.

They attempted to give her lovers and children, but she remained autonomous. The best they could do was link her to a brother who then usurped many of her ancient prerogatives. They stripped her of much of her complexity, narrowing her sphere of influence to that of a "woman's goddess" and a slightly foolish maiden who ruled over young girls before their inevitable marriage. Her role of protector was reversed and she was made the punisher of unchaste females, ostensibly because she was a virgin (but no longer Virgin). Not until the fifth century B.C. was she linked to the moon, or made a triple goddess. Both of these developments reflected a change in religious focus. Pre-Dorian understandings located the source of magick and power within the planet. Dorian and post-Dorian understandings saw the ultimate source in the sky or the heavens, so all things divine had to have a celestial connection or become evil. Grouping goddesses into trinities also became popular in the fifth century B.C. Artemis was linked to two other moon goddesses, Selene and Hekate; although Hekate was also not linked to the moon before this time.

The overlays, rewritings, and reversals continue down to the present time. In any historical period authors and practitioners have their own ethnocentric view of who Artemis was. And a case could be made that in each era her nature changed to reflect the mind-set of her devotees. This process is not idiosyncratic to Artemis. Any divinity that has been around for any length of time will have numerous overlays and reinterpretations, each denoting a different understanding. The question for the modern practitioner is which of the many competing views will inform your practice? A choice is mandatory, unless one is a monotheist whose divinity encompasses everything. Each version of Artemis (or any other divinity) speaks to a different worldview, a different context in which she forms part of a unique pattern.

One version of any particular divinity may preclude other versions. Artemis as moon goddess reflects a very different world than Artemis as earth goddess. Artemis as a pre-teen begging Zeus for a bow and arrow like the boys' is a far different force than the Artemis who is the horned hunter of the wilds. Decisions about the nature of the divinity that you interact with are personal and spiritual. The process of discovering the range of choices each divinity embodies is mundane, and just as essential as what is done in temple or circle.

Kallista is a Weaver, Mother, Co-Founder of DarkStar Guild & Circle of Alani, Clinical Social Worker, Radical Feminist Lesbian, Researcher & Anthropologist.


Farnell, Richard Lewis. (1977). The Cults of the Greek States. Caratzas Brothers: New Rochelle, N.Y.

This is the best single source for anyone interested in Greek religion or Greek divinity. Although this is not a primary source (e.g. an ancient Greek writing about his religion), it is a seminal (quoted by everyone) source of great value. It is out of print so if you find it, buy it or copy it. Many of us are searching for copies. University libraries are a good source.

Darton, Robert. (1984). The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History. Vintage Books: New York

This is an excellent introduction to and example of how very different the understandings of people in other times and other places are from ours. This is fun reading on its own, but will really help frame the kinds of questions that allow you to look at your own, unconscious, bias.

Gimbutas, Marija. (1989). The Language of the Goddess. Harper and Row: San Francisco.

All of her books are excellent. Her scholarship is unquestionable, and the wealth of information is overwhelming. Even if you don't agree with her conclusions, her process and attempts to interpret information in new ways are fun and provacative.

Published in Australia  1984 - 1990
In Seattle & Sydney 1990-1994 - and Sydney/Seattle Webzine 1999
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