Erin's note: Readers, I am chuffed (yeah, there's no good American word for chuffed) to have author Elizabeth Aston guest-posting at Pagan Spirits today. She's here to talk about her favorite ancient goddesses and gods, and how they inspire her fiction. She came with goodies to give away. She's the author of six volumes of historical fiction based on one of my most recent obsessions, Pride and Prejudice. She also wrote the contemporary novel Writing Jane Austen. Without further ado, here's Elizabeth:
Ever since I first read the Greek myths as a child, I’ve been hooked. What a bunch they are, those Olympians and all the lesser hangers on. Raw power, raw emotion, raw sex, raw everything. But subtle with it, tricky, untrustworthy.
Cross them at your peril, mortals.
And the stories are so fabulous (literally). You can hear them again and again, in their original form and as they crop up in various versions in literature and opera and paintings and ballet and goodness knows where, and never grow tired of them.
They’re archetypes, of course, and archetypes are great for writers. Here’s Ares, god of war, angry, hot blooded, wanting to kill. Here’s Hera, the nagging wife, but the one you want beside you when you’re in labour. Hestia, goddess of the hearth, offering you a warm drink and checking that the guest room is just right. Hermes, made of quicksilver, carrying messages, up to all kinds of sly dealings. Surly Poseidon, drowning men for fun and causing the earth to shake, Hades, guarding the under world, Hecate, goddess of the moon, Artemis, virgin goddess of the hunt, great Athene, who lives on in those glorious Power Marys of Piero della Francesca. Zeus, taking his pleasure where he wishes (and he wishes often); austere, dangerous Apollo…
And just think what they got up to, all that time on their hands, nectar to drink, immortality. Sex, for one thing. Lots of sex, much of it extremely dodgy, but they certainly knew how to enjoy themselves.
Do I believe in them? Of course not, how could I, modern woman as I am? However, I do have a Janus pot at my front door, to honour the god of the threshold, and a Medusa pot (her snaky glare deters burglars). And which of us hasn’t heard the call of the gods, at one time or another?
A favourite of mine is Dionysus. Not the fat, rackety Bacchus, but the glowing young man with a leopard skin. He’s trouble, he stirs everything up, but without him, life would be dull, dull, dull. He’s the god of wine, and he brings liberation, anarchy, upheaval and the unexpected. Dionysus is the Lord of the Dance, and that’s why, in Unholy Harmonies, my character Issur, another name for Dionysus, is a dancer, a classically trained dancer, who arrives as a dancing telegram in the house of Sadie, an abandoned wife, and proceeds to carry out a devastatingly sensuous strip tease.
He transforms Sadie’s life - that’s what he does, wakes mortals up to a sense of what life is truly about. Just as wine loosens our tongues and spirits and morals, so does this great god, the twelfth Olympian, bring chaos and ecstasy into our lives. And, just as Dionysus led the Maenads in a terrible dance that led to Pentheus's violent death, so, in the English village of Unthrang, Issur takes to the hills with his followers.
He’s a transforming god, and the other reason I like him is the wonderful love story associated with him. He came across Ariadne, stranded on a beach on Naxos by the faithless Theseus, and fell passionately in love with her. When she died, he set her among the stars, and her wedding diadem became the seven stars of the constellation Corona Borealis.
Who is the female counterpart of Dionysus, with his beauty and his wildness and the danger when you go too far? It has to be Aphrodite. We know her as the goddess of love, but she’s also a goddess of pleasure and merriment and delight. Aphrodite's attendants are Paidia (Play), Eudaimonia (Happiness), Pandaisia (Banquets), Pannychis (Parties & Night Revels), and Antheia (Floral Decoration). How’s that for fun? Yet, like Dionysus, she has a darker side, leading men to war and madness, as she did when she gave Helen to Paris and brought about the Trojan war.
Every novelist honours Aphrodite. Whether it’s a sensuous romance, with hot sex on every other page, or a coy romance ending in no more than a kiss, a deep and thoughtful tale of misery, an action-packed thriller - Aphrodite will be there, you can bet on it. Centre stage, or lurking deliciously in the shadows, she makes her presence known, and we instinctively look for her in everything we read.
Dionysus and Aphrodite are a great double act. They are about pleasure but also like all the gods, are not to be trifled with. Mortals do well not to thwart them or ignore their sinister powers - and that's true of all the gods and goddesses: Take care! But whether in the writer’s soul or out dancing in the hills, in an elegant drawing room or delighting in the pleasures of the bed, there they are, this troublesome and awe-inspiring duo, bringing joy and danger into all our lives, just as long as we hear them calling and let them in.
Links for Elizabeth Aston:
Site and Blog: http://www.atticabooks.com/ea/?page_id=45
Please comment below your favorite god or goddesses and enter to win a copy of Children of Chance, the prequel of the Mountjoy series. In one week, I'll pick a winner of this ebook! Available in any ebook format.
And for the Giveaway Grand Prize: Everyone who comments is eligible to win a lovely hematite bracelet and earrings seen here (http://www.charmsoflight.com/bracelets/Hematite_Hearts_Bracelet_Br-He-001.html; http://www.charmsoflight.com/earrings/Hematite_Heart_Earrings_E-He-001.html). I'll pick a lucky winner mid-October and can ship anywhere in the world. Good luck!