I went on a little shopping excursion this weekend and was very happy to run across the little guys in the photo in a thrift shop. They were made in Greece, and I suppose they’re sold as tourist trinkets there. They’re about four inches tall and pretty crudely made, especially Apollo, who seems to have a bit of a lurch going, like he’s spent too much time hanging around with Dionysus. But I don’t mind that. Finding them was the best thing that’s happened to me in a while.
I’m in transition in more ways than one at the moment, and I feel like I’ve been in suspended animation for the past year. I’ll be moving to my own place at the end of June, but until then my living arrangements don’t give me much chance to live my womanhood, which is pretty frustrating, of course. The long weekend just made it worse, giving me that much more time to feel pointless, which is why I decided to go shopping; it got me out of the house and passed some time doing something besides thinking about my situation.
So that was positive in itself. But the thing is, these two little figurines have a special meaning for me because of a dream I had quite a few years ago, a dream that became a major turning point in my life.
In the dream, I was on my way to the Hauptbahnhof (main railroad station) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (I worked in Frankfurt for a while, many years ago.) I was definitely going to the station to take a train, but the dream didn’t indicate where my journey was going to take me. As I approached the station, I saw there were numerous street vendors with tables set up along the sidewalk, hawking all kinds of wares. (This is not something you’d see there in real life.) It crossed my mind that maybe I would find something that would be useful on my trip, so I started browsing the tables.
I wasn’t finding anything that seemed very helpful, and I finally came to the last table without seeing anything I wanted. And then much to my surprise, I saw my maternal grandmother (who had died many years before) sitting in a chair nearby. Naturally, I stopped to talk with her. I explained my predicament, and she just nodded toward my hand and said, “What have you got there?”
I looked down and realized with considerable surprise that I was carrying what appeared to be a small suitcase, rather old and a little beat-up. I laid it on the nearest table and opened it, and was astonished at what I saw inside. It wasn’t actually a suitcase, it was a carrying case, and in it were two golden statuettes set into form-fitting recesses in the lining: figurines of Artemis and Apollo, about 8 to 10 inches tall, very beautifully wrought in a style somewhat like that of Benvenuto Cellini.
Seeing them, I realized at once that I didn’t need to acquire anything else for my journey. Indeed, maybe having these images in gold meant that I didn’t need to make the journey at all – I already had something more beautiful and valuable than I would find anywhere I went “out there” in the world. And that’s when I woke up.
I’m not going to do a detailed interpretation of my dream here. I’ll note that I have a lifelong love of Greek mythology, going back to grade school, when I read a collection of tales from the Greek myths written by Robert Graves (“Greek Gods and Heroes”). From that time on, in the symbolic competition that has been referred to as “Athens vs. Jerusalem,” I’ve always sided with Athens.
I should also mention that at the time I had this dream, my lifelong spiritual search was leading me increasingly to suspect that I was going to find my core intuitions best articulated in ancient Greek philosophy, specifically the Orphic-Pythagorean-Platonic tradition. I was resisting this conclusion at the time because I had studied philosophy in college (indeed, I majored in it for a while) and had found nothing in that study that seemed even remotely connected to my spiritual intuitions.
The dream led me to revisit and reacquaint myself with Plato and also his later follower Plotinus. What I found in their writings, looked at afresh without the refracting lens of scholarly prejudice, was that the ancient philosophers never intended to teach a purely intellectual, abstract system of thinking, but rather were teaching a systematic “way” of self-transformation and spiritual ascent – a way, moreover, that closely resembles the teachings of the great masters of the East. And I’ve been working on practicing that way ever since.
As for Artemis and Apollo, as brother and sister – twins – they form a syzygy (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/syzygy ), a union or reconciliation of opposites symbolized by the union of a female and a male divinity. Their attributes make this clear: Apollo is the god of the sun, of daylight and thus of the conscious, rational mind. Artemis is the goddess of the moon, of night, of the unconscious mind and the ineradicable non-rationality that exists both below and above human consciousness.
Some thinkers (e.g., Nietzsche) have seen Apollo as the epitome of order, and any divinity set in opposition to him (Dionysus, for Nietzsche) as disorder personified. I think this is wrong; rather, what Apollo and Artemis represent is the interplay of two kinds of order, both necessary to life and growth: formal, principled order and natural, dynamic order. Apollo without Artemis is static and sterile, Artemis without Apollo is riotous and self-destructive.
It seems to me that no human can be whole without awareness of and attentiveness to both these sides of ourselves. More importantly in the context of today’s world-situation, no society can be whole that doesn’t acknowledge and respect the creativity inherent in the “other” and promote and protect the freedom needed for this “other” to breathe and grow and live its self-nature for all to see.