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Aphrodite Joins Yemaya & Mami Wata for a Swim in Human Consciousness

It’s 30 months ago that I wrote this post about goddesses and my immersion again in studies of the collective unconscious and mythology. I had no vision of a GlamTribale jewelry collection when I joined Aphrodite and Mami Wata in a cohesive vision of female sensuality and its place in the male unconscious mind.

Writing just now about Lais Ribero as a Bahia beauty in L’Officiel Netherlands as ‘Toda Menina Baiana’ (strut your stuff), Mami Wata appeared and asked to have her story reshared once again. There’s a bit of hell tp pay that she wasn’t first in line in Benjamin’s goddess essays.

Mami W was not persuaded, but she has forgiven me. 

After a long and difficult journey for me — which is nothing compared to Mami Wata’s journey and suffering on the slave ships across the Atlantic and into Haiti and on to South America — the GlamTribale goddesses are here. And without a doubt we are swimming in the waters of human consciousness — further, deeper and with more incredible connections than I ever dreamed was possible in my life. What a spider web!! ~ Anne

Men have always been ambivalent about mermaids, the mythological aquatic creature with a female human head and torso but the tail of a fish. In many ancient cultures, mermaids were regarded as semi-divine aspects of the Goddess.

Carl Jung’s theory of the feminine unconscious describes this oceanic-subterranean womb of creation as an unfathomable place of ancient wisdom but also fear.

The first known mermaid stories appeared in Assyria, ca. 1000 BC. The goddess Atargatis, mother of Assyrian queen Semiramis, loved a mortal shepherd and unintentionally killed him.

Distraught and ashamed, Atargatis jumped into a lake to take the form of a fish, but the waters would not conceal her divine beauty. Thereafter, she took the form of a mermaid—human above the waist, fish below—though the earliest representations of Atargatis showed her as a fish with a human head and legs, similar to the Babylonian Ea. The Greeks recognized Atargatis under the name Derketo.

Prior to 546 BC, the Milesian philosopher Anaximander proposed that mankind had sprung from an aquatic species of animal. The scientist and highly-regarded critical thinker thought that humans, with their extended infancy, could not have survived otherwise.

All sea goddesses inherit the sea’s qualities.

Just as the ocean could be gentle and nurturing, so could water be violent and deadly, a psychological expression more blatant as mermaids became the Sirens of Greek mythology.

In a larger sense, this is humans’ view of nature, including the fact that a fertilized human egg grows in a sack of embryonic fluid. 

The mermaid is full of contradictions in a way that God is not. If God sends an earthquake, he has a good reason for creating such dramatic human suffering. Mermaids, on the other hand, are ferocious and tempestuous, requiring male guidance to keep them from deploying their irrational female tendencies around the planet.

In Greek mythology, the Sirens — who now possessed the bodies of birds and the heads of women, lived in the caves over water, calling to men with voices so sweet that mariners who heard their songs were often shipwrecked.

To this day the fact that women cannot sing near ultra Orthodox men in Jerusalem is probably rooted in this ancient myth. Unfortunately, men have always loathed taking responsibility for an inability to steer their own boats into safe harbor.

Mermaids preceded a single patriarchal, almighty God. Over in ancient Greece, Icarus was practicing flying into the sky, beating back the female forces of nature that threatened his destruction.

Forget Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles — who were hardly friends to women. An almighty, monotheistic God over in Jerusalem knew what was best for the future of civilization, and he would have his way.

Mermaids went global as human societies sprung up around the world, populating the planet with the same stories and inner anxieties about life and death.

Aphrodite and Venus

In Aphrodite mythology has one of it’s best known goddesses. Called Venus in Roman mythology, in Roman  “Aphrodite” means foam-born. Beautiful as she was, Aphrodite originated in the myth of Uranus being castrated by Cronus, with the offending organ thrown into the sea.

The foam from this event gave birth to Aphrodite. And you thought Sigmund Freud invented the ‘castration complex’. The fear of women castrating men literally and figuratively began with man’s desire to live forever — if only he could fly high enough into the sky and away from earth-bound women.

There is a picture by Botticelli called “The Birth of Venus” which ignores the more unpleasant parts of this tale and shows Venus, naked except for some skillfully placed cloth, raising out of the sea in a clam shell.

According to African mythology the Supreme Being created a pantheon of gods and goddesses called Orishas. The Orishas regulate the world and act as intermediaries between men and the Supreme Being. After the Supreme Being created the world, He discovered that it had a large hole in it.

This vast hole was filled with water the Supreme Being made from some gas clouds. Enter Yemaya, a critically important goddess

In West Africa, Yemaya was the first mother, bringing fertility to the world and ruling over the oceans. Because she is the spirit of water, nothing can live without Yemaya. Her mythical DNA lives in all things — plant, animal and human.

For all these reasons and more she is called the Queen of the World.

In a cursory reading of these myths, it seems that Yemaya (aka Yemoja and numerous other related names) is celebrated as a deeply sensual creature in the original mythology.

I haven’t enough time to investigate fully black scholars’ writing vs whites’ on the West African Yemaya mythology and encourage anyone to share insights on the topic.

Personally, I don’t believe white writers are imbuing black mythology with overtly sexual stereotypes.  The ancient world was highly sexual, and it’s monotheism that reduced human sexuality to a state of sin, with woman responsible for the downfall of the world.

As Mother of the Sea (thought to be the source of all life) along with the attributes of sword and fan, Yemoja expresses “what Judith Hoch-Smith calls ‘radical Yoruba female sexuality’” in the sense that this “power” of expression reveals Divine presence which is neither he nor she but an expression of pure and energetic essence, áshe (Thompson 74). Yemoja, then, appears to mediate between all pairs of opposites in conflict with each other. Yemoja represents itself archetypally through the image of the strongest tension, the “eternal struggle of the sexes in Yoruba society over control of the life force” (Thompson 74). via

At the same time he created Yemaya and gave her domain over all the waters, the Supreme Being created her night version Nana Buruku, as the mysterious and mystical moon. This female duality regulates day and night, so that neither is too long.

Clearly Yemaya occupied the corner office, in charge of running all of life. It’s said that Yemaya and her moon goddess side control the tides and the rain. In a new basket of gifts, Yemaya also brought beauty into the world, just like Aphrodite.

Who knew a woman could have such a complete wealth of deployable talents!

Also in African mythology there is a mermaid goddess called Mami Wata (water mother). Her cult is very popular in Western and Central Africa. Slaves carried her religion to Haiti, Cuba, Central and South America. She is a goddess in the cult of Voudun (which is different from that Hollywood Voodoo nonsense).

It’s said that Mami Wata even influenced the myths of American Indians. Rest assured that I will investigate that idea, because I haven’t been the same person since my trip to Tucson over Thanksgiving. Was Frank Lloyd Wright a Mami Wata lover?

Mami Wata is described as far more than ‘just a beautiful woman’.

Her gorgeosity is so extreme, it is supernatural. Her clothes are so new they seem to shine brighter than a Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton collection. MW possesses unimaginable wealth and dazzling jewelry, but she’s not a Modern-values woman, lacking heart and looking for a job on Wall Street.

Mami Wata is a Smart Sensuality female with a strong connection to feminine principles, with a snake coiled around her waist, its head between her breasts — just like Lilith, Adam’s first wife. Mami Wati’s hair is black and straight, and her skin is fair which are unusual traits in African mythology.

In her mermaid form Mami Wata is naked. As a goddess of wealth she may be shown with a gold mirror or a often combing her long hair with a richly-made comb while gazing into her reflection.

Divine Goddess Future

My knowledge of mermaid as symbolic icon is limited. Being highly influenced by Carl Jung and his concept of the unconscious as female principles my entire life, I pursued a bit of research on Jung and mermaids.

Digital adventures are always full of twists and turns, and I can’t vouch for a moment as to the accuracy of the argument that Disney’s ‘Little Mermaid’ Ariel is (unknowingly I assume) a symbol of Mary Magdalene.

The thesis that Jung believed the patriarchy would eventually burn itself out, because life cannot exist in such a state of imbalance between feminine and masculine principles is correct.

Having opened a Pandora’s box here at the bottom of the sea, I’ll leave it alone for now.

If you’re a brave soul or bored as a bat, you can share my reading.  Anne

More reading:

The ‘Little Mermaid’ and the Archetype of the Lost Bride by Margaret Starbird

Jung and Heraclitus by Mark L. Ditson

The Divine Feminine, Unveiled by Elizabeth Debold

Yemaya-Olokun by Stephanie Pope

Heading to Washington D.C. for a Meet & Greet with Mami Wata

Reader Comments (7)

Dear Anne, I've started on oracle cards. Yes to Jung and Symbols and the language of the subconscious: image and metaphor. :) Love, F

April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterF

freelance writer

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEVECONNER29

Informative and interesting read. thoroughly enjoyed it. if you are interested further in mami wata mythology check out this teaser trailer for a short film that i produced, it explores the mami wata mythology

December 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Black Moth

Hi Anne-

Thank you for your interesting narrative exploration into archetypal images and their sensuous qualities carried through feminine images of psyche's "psyche" inherent in mythologems throughout ages and cultures in their literature, oral stories and life. Fascinating!

Thank you, too, for quoting from my paper on the African river-rain goddess and for providing a link to the full essay. The essay is part of a larger study involving the transformation of the feminine principle (la vida interior) whose survival and revivification into Santeria I traced through the African Diaspora and Middle Passage into North America. Spirit goes where it will.

I've added your page to my pinboard.

Many Blessings,

May 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Pope

Dear Anne...

An interesting read, thanks!

There is in the section concerning Aphrodite a point I'd like to challenge. I am far, far from a student of mythology, but was not Cronus a masculine figure rendering the creation of Aphrodite the result of male on male violence rather than a direct assault by the female on the male?

It is an interesting symbology in that Cronus is also remembered as the God of Time, and time is the enemy of fertility in women even more than in men. Cronus castrated (rendered sterile) his father, assuring he'd face no younger siblings to challenge his rule only to have his place taken by his own son Zeus, a progression of patricide in their mythology. Aphrodite, remembered as the Goddess of beauty and procreation, fertility, would then become an enduring symbol of the males fear not of his woman, his mate, but rather the male fear of the challenge his own offspring might pose to his livelihood as they matured and challenged the aging (and weakening) parent(s) for the resources needed to nurture their children. If such be the case then yes, the fear of death is a valid point but only in the context of personal death as the needed precursor for the continued life of the species. A thought with a bit of a Hindu flavor I would think.


January 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCyranos DeMet

Hi Cyranos. "Beautiful as she was, Aphrodite originated in the myth of Uranus being castrated by Cronus, with the offending organ thrown into the sea." I acknowledge that Aphrodite was born in male on male violence.

No I do not agree at all that Aphrodite being born of male violence makes Aphrodite an enduring symbol of the loving feminine, a civilizing influence I believe you're suggesting. This is a modern interpretation with a strong dose of chivalry and understanding of what has been lost in the decline of feminine principles. Even today, Aphrodite is a bad girl. As the seductress, she reminds us of the very real ability of women to co-opt the brains of men, as evidenced by brain scans of what happens when men see an attractive woman. Aphrodite is a symbol of female sexuality now becoming promiscuous and erratic -- as the explosive nature of female sexuality is understood -- during the rise of Greek civilization. Aphrodite is a signal that women are out of control in our sexuality and must be governed by men. In fact among the goddesses and into the real worlds of Greece and Rome, some goddesses are sexual and others celibate.

In my now extensive readings about the goddesses, Aphrodite represents an evolutionary decline of women's power. Unlike the post-Lilith Eve, Aphrodite still has power, but it is increasingly confined to the sexual, alluring female. The realm of powerful goddesses like Athena or Themis die out. Women are left with Eve as an exclusive role model, when previously women were Gaia and had all the power. There are many mythological references to men challenging women's power and losing in earlier stories. I will be sharing them in the coming months.

Goddesses like Mami Wata and Yemaya are older and much more powerful goddesses than Aphrodite. Sex, power, fertility, justice -- the earlier goddesses are much more holistic women.

The male on male violence that was the source of Aphrodite's birth is a sideshow, a commentary on the rise of male power previously held in check by feminine principles and the primary place of women in a pre-monotheism spirituality. The story of Aphrodite reads of Freud much more than Jung. While I embrace both men as great thinkers about human behavior, I find the much more complex answers to my questions with Jung and always have.

January 13, 2013 | Registered CommenterAnne

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