Saturday, December 5, 2009


These last few years I find myself craving black in this season. Not at Samhain; no, then I crave orange and russet and red, the colors of the leaves or the fat full moon rising at sunset. But now, as we spiral down to Yule and the Solstice, and the light gets smaller and smaller like the aperture of a camera closing down, I want black like you wouldn't believe.

These last few years the practice of lighting lights for the season has seemed so alien, so wrong, so, and I don't normally use this word, so blasphemous. One does not welcome the dark by lighting a candle. This seems obvious to me, these last few years. Perhaps I am becoming old and cynical and fed up with holiday spirit and the usual forced cheeriness; that is entirely plausible. Probable, even. But I want to sit with the dark. That feels proper. I do not want to hurriedly banish it away at the first thought; that feels like denial, like fear, like willful ignorance. This preemptive warding-off, this feverish and wide-eyed jumping ahead to the light feels disrespectful, like it is ignoring, dismissing the reality of the dark.

I want to sit with the dark a while, in quietude. Long enough, at least, for my eyes to grow accustomed to it. Long enough that I can, maybe, look around a bit.

For me, anyway, and only in these last most recent years. I do not know why my attitude has shifted, but it feels calm and measured, and not based in fear, or despair, or seasonal depression. Perhaps I have simply had enough of the blaring commercialism, itself a form of denial. I don't know.

And this year I find I want to paint Styx, the Goddess, She of the blue-black river, the eldest daughter of primaeval Ocean. A dark Goddess, certainly, but an uncomfortable one; and I am not entirely sure why I am so drawn to paint Her. For Her name means Hatred.

She is an ambiguous figure, or is, at least, to a radical feminist such as myself. She is a Titanis, one of the elder race of Gods, against Whom upstart Zeus started a war for supremacy. When He declared war He invited the other Gods to join Him, telling them He would heap status and gifts on those taking His side; and Styx, though a Titanis Herself, was the first to come to Him, against Her own people. For this, She was rewarded with a river named for Her, a river considered so holy the Gods swore oaths by it.

Did you catch that? When Zeus declared war, Hatred immediately flew to His side.

She is properly a traitor, this Styx, though of course described in glowing terms by the winners Who wrote mythic history, meaning, the Olympians, Who ended up dominant and victorious. Nike, Victory, is Her daughter, which is I suppose a large part of why the Olympians won, for when Styx went to Their side She brought Her family with Her. Victory, Daughter of Hatred. Something is being acknowledged there, don't you think?

But Styx is a Titanis, and is mentioned as early as Hesiod (which is about as early as you're going to get in Greek myth). And the thing with the Titanes is that they are generally regarded as belonging to an older stratum of myth, one likely held by an earlier people, who were assimilated into the Greeks proper when they arrived in the land; the mythic war between the two sets of Gods being a sort of fossilized representation of the conflict between the two peoples and their traditions playing out. That is of course simplified, and probably only true in a general sense; still, it makes me wonder about the roots of Styx. What is She really?

I would guess that the myth has it backwards, as myths usually do concerning attributes of the Gods; She was always Goddess of that Underworld river, as that is by definition what She is. The story about being given the river as reward is a later explanation, a rationalization; the river was always Hers. And it is unusual, also, that She is a river Goddess, for the overwhelming majority of river Deities in Greek myth are male, as a quick skim of the Potami page at Theoi shows. So She is a rare exception to the rule. That, right there, hints that She is old, or original, autochthonous if you will, sprung from the land, some older remnant that proved intractable to the new inhabitants, and could not be changed, only adopted. But I don't know.

She is, as I said, ambiguous, for although Her name means Hatred, Styx is also concerned with matters of justice and truth; Her river is so sacred, and so powerful, it knows, She knows, when the Gods are lying, and the waters will poison Them if They do, which is part of why oaths sworn by Styx are so strong. Or, at least, matters of justice and truth so far as the Olympian Gods, so far as Zeus, are concerned. I do not know that I consider His justice my justice.

I spent an evening not too long ago researching Styx, starting out at the Theoi page and following branching paths and faint scents; and I found that there is a real river, in Arkadia, Greece, which is called the Styx. It took a bit of research to get to its modern name, and where exactly it is located, but after a few hours I tracked it down, and, wonder that the internet is, it wasn't too long before I found a photo of it. It is quite dramatic, a high spring falling from a sheer cliff; and the rocks at the base are a rusty red and a deep, wet, black. Here, see for yourself.

If I paint Her I will make Her hair black, and long, and flowing, as is proper to a river Goddess. She will be in red and blue-black, I think, and in shadow. The north side of a mountain, of the underworld, kind of shadow, the kind that never sees the sun, deep and ambiguous and dark.

I mean, if I paint Her. I am not sure I will.


Christopher Michael said...

Brilliant. Such a fan of yours.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

This is fascinating info. Wow, Nike/Victory is the daughter of Styx/Hatred who is Zeus' right hand in War -- what a profound insight from the ancients -- one that is still unfortunately so relevant and true today.

Dancing With Fey said...

Wow. Thank you. I'd read about Greek myth, but knowing the meaning of Styx's name is makes a difference.

Anonymous said...

Everybody just wants to be loved; even dark goddesses. I first learned came across the name and the myth when I read the autobiography of NZ author, Ruth Park, which she titled "Fishing in the Styx". The name is so playful really... 'styx and stones may break my bones'. Dante places Styx in the Garden of Eden in his Commedia. Hatred in delicious.

Hecate said...

What a great post. Thank you.