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Fury's Blessings

Do you hear how Fury sounds her blessings forth, how Fury finds the way? - Athena

In this era of road rage, air rage, palm pilots, cell phones, over-scheduling, and constant rushing, it's difficult to cultivate personal mindfulness and mental calmness. We're often stressed and it seems we're always angry. We often try to suppress our anger, but this year, I'm learning to praise my Fury and praise the fortunes of my life.

Samhain is often said to have been the most important of the fire festivals because it marks the beginning of the Celtic Year. It marks the third and final harvest and the coming of winter. Samhain is a time to deepen our connection to the cycles of the seasons, remember departed friends and family, and confront our attitudes towards death. It is the perfect opportunity to gain spiritual insight about the past and the future.

At Samhain, the Goddess takes on her crone aspect and reigns as the Queen of the Underworld. At this period of reflection, She teaches us wisdom and helps us let go in order to grow. We invoke Her as Hecate, Hel, and Cerridwen. There are goddesses, however, that are often overlooked, forgotten. They are the goddesses that walk in the darkness, the goddesses of transformation -- the Furies.

Called the Erinyes by the Greeks, the Furies are the Roman goddesses of vengeance and retributive justice. Some myths say they came into being when the Titan Cronos castrated his father, Ouranos, whose blood germinated Gaea, the earth. Other myths describe the Furies as the daughters of Nyx, the goddess and embodiment of Night.

The poet Virgil placed the Furies in the Underworld, where they reside tormenting evildoers. Greek poets, however, saw them as pursuing sinners on Earth. Oedipus was tortured by them for killing his father. They drove Alcmaeon mad for murdering his mother. They are portrayed as cruel and avenging, but in Aeschylus' The Eumenides, the third installment of The Oresteia, they undergo tremendous change.

In The Eumenides, the Furies relentlessly pursue and torment Orestes for the murder of his mother, Clytaemnestra. Orestes appeals to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and justice. A trial takes place and Orestes is acquitted. The Furies are, well, furious. Athena knows she cannot do away with these wise and ancient goddesses. She recognizes that no house can thrive without them. She can only persuade them to redirect their power. Athena offers the Furies sanctuary and special rituals in their honor. They accept and are then renamed the Eumenides, or the Kindly Ones, protectors of the suppliant.

The name Eumenides is merely a euphemism because the ancients feared to utter their dreaded names. It is unclear as to how many Furies there are. Euripides was the first to speak of them as three in number. Later writers called them Alecto ("Unceasing in Anger"), Tisiphone ("Avenger of Murder), and Megaera ("Jealous"). At Athens, there were statues of only two and, sometimes, they were depicted as a large flock of flying creatures led by three.

The Furies are often viewed as angry and ferocious. Indeed, their Greek name, Erinyes, means "the Angry Ones." Their appearance was horrific. Apollo's priestess Pythia calls them Gorgons without wings. She says they are black and repulsive with eyes that ooze a sickening discharge. Other times, they were depicted as having bat wings, snakes in their hair, and even as being dog-headed. Later, when they are called the Eumenides, they were seen as beautiful, albeit serious, maidens. They are sometimes depicted as dressing like Artemis. Aeschylus dresses them in majestic, crimson robes.

In time, the Furies came to be known as those responsible for avenging offenses by children against their mothers and, eventually, fathers as well. They also heard complaints from the old about insults from the young as well as from guests who had been insulted by their hosts, hospitality being extremely important in the ancient Greek world.

The influence of the Furies extended widely. They were feared and revered by the ancients who offered them sacrifices and libations and celebrated their festivals at Athens. They had sanctuaries at Areopagus and Colonus and were also worshipped at Megalopolis. It is surprising that they are so little revered today.

I see the Furies as beautiful, solemn maidens. Perhaps it's because I am in the maiden stage of my life. I see them as the daughters of Nyx, Children of Eternal Night, and spirits of metamorphosis who are especially deserving of reverence at Samhain

The underlying theme at Samhain is renewal and facing death in order to find life. As the New Year, it is a time to make amends with the past and make vows for a better self in the future. The Furies are powerful goddesses of transformation. They represent psychological torments associated with a guilty conscience. Impartial and impersonal, they symbolize accepting responsibility for past actions and the search for redemption for past wrongdoing so we may live freely.

Further evidence of the regenerative symbolism of the Furies is their depiction as gorgons. The serpent is a powerful symbol of rebirth and renewal. It is an image that appears repeatedly in myth. Serpent goddesses often symbolize death and rebirth, the bridge between the worlds. Like Medusa, who is closely tied to Athena, the Furies represent wisdom. Upon accepting Athena's offer of the land's first fruits, the Furies become spirits of regeneration.

The Furies are transformed from the Angry Ones to the Benevolent Ones and teach us an important lesson in forgiveness and growth. These dark sisters, goddesses of retribution, are not easy goddesses. They challenge us to take a deep look at ourselves and confront our attitudes not only towards death, but towards ourselves and others. They teach us to let go of our anger and make a conscious decision to take action that will result in a significant change in our lives. It means release from guilt, living without fear, and taking responsibilities for our lives. Only then can we be transformed from the Angry Ones to the Kindly Ones.

Bibliography

  • Aeschylus. The Oresteia. New York: Penguin, 1977.
  • Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York: Penguin, 1979.
  • Larrington, Carolyne, ed. The Woman's Companion to Mythology. London: HarperCollins, 1992.
  • Downing, Christine. The Goddess: Mythological Images of the Feminine. New York: Continuum Publishing, 1996.

Graphics Credits

  • The Furies, © 2004 Cosette Paneque. All rights reserved.
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