Did Pandora Bring Trouble or Transformation for Women?

April 26, 2012
When Pandora opened the box and released the spites, was she merely the bringer of spites or the bringer of the vessel of transformation of feminine energies?

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A “Fond Farewell” Article

When I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I have moved many of them here to the blog, where they will still be available and people can find them by using tags. Enjoy.

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DID PANDORA BRING TROUBLE OR TRANSFORMATION FOR WOMEN?

By SANDRA GEYER MILLER, MA

INTRODUCTION by Arlene F. Harder, MA, MFT — We are often dismissive of myths, claiming we are so much more  sophisticated than those people who  lived centuries ago. Yet myths carry a seed of truth and it is through an exploration of them that we can more easily understand ourselves today.

The myth of Pandora is one of those myths with buried lessons and I was glad that Sandra Geyer Miller give me permission several years ago to reprint her articles on the topic.

Unfortunately, when I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I am moving several of them here to the blog, where they will still be available for people to stumble across, or to search by using tags. I call these “Fond Farewell Articles” and will share them every once-in-awhile for those who didn’t read them on the site.

In this post I have added bold to some phrases or sentences so even if you don’t want to read this excellent piece thoroughly, you can skim it quickly and discover the kernel of truth in a popular myth and then may want to read all of it.

Arlene F. Harder, MA, MFT

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Kashmiri writing box, 19thC

During my studies of goddess mythology I was struck by the myth of Pandora and her “box”. Here was a myth of the first woman that continues to haunt the image of women even today. Foolish Pandora, who opened the forbidden casket and released the Spites – Old Age, Labor, Sickness, Insanity, Vice, and Passion – to spread and cover the earth. Was she merely the bringer of spites, the revengeful curse of Zeus, or was she as the mother of life also bringer of the vessel of transformation of feminine energies?

Only examination of the Greek version of the myth within the larger framework of “creation and fall” mythic themes, can reveal to us clues about the feminine psyche and its evolution. All of the psychological literature of the last twenty-five years has not dispelled the cultural and spiritual shadow that surrounds the image of woman.

The two myths still prevalent today are the Adam/Eve/Serpent and Pandora/Epimetheus/Prometheus stories depicting the first woman and the fall. In these myths the primordial images of beauty/hag, innocence/temptation, and obedience/disobedience are developed. With the coming of woman, man’s paradise is ruptured, and the duality of time/eternity, good/evil and birth/death is begun. Much has been written about the Adam and Eve story, but little has been written about Pandora. The Greek and Judeo-Christian versions of the Eve and Pandora myths serve to propagandize the message of the early patriarchy about the status of women at that time.

Forthwith he made an evil thing for men as the Price of fire; for the very famous Limping God formed of earth the likeness of a shy maiden as the son of Cronus willed. And the goddess bright-eyed Athene girded and clothed her with silvery raiment, and down from her head she spread with her hands a embroidered veil, a wonder to see;

And she, Pallas Athene, put about her head lovely garlands, flowers of new grown herbs.

Also she put upon her head a crown of gold which the very famous Limping God made himself and worked with his own hands as a favor to Zeus his father. On it was much curious work wonderful to see; for of the many creatures which the land and sea rear up, he put most upon it, wonderful things, like living beings with voices: and great beauty shone out from it. (Evelyn-White, 1950, pp. 120ff)

Pandora is portrayed as the product of Hephaestus’ craft and Zeus’s guile, – Zeus’s curse for the theft of fire by Prometheus. She was fashioned as a bewitching beauty endowed with gifts from all the gods and goddesses.

Feminists have said that women today can “have it all” which contains an element of truth, as Pandora means “all gifts”, but given the requirements of the patriarchal society, today’s Pandora can manifest only a few gifts if she is lucky.

And as for beauty, modern day Pandora is fashioned by the incarnate Hephaestus skilled as plastic surgeon with liposuction, face lifts, plastic implants and body contouring. The seductive beautification process has become limited to the physical body. Instead of Pandora as an image of the all-gifted, we have the anorexic, addicted star, princess or first lady who fight the ravages of time and duality with physical escapes. The quasi-feminist business woman who adorns herself in men’s clothing and adopts men’s behavior, crashes into the invisible corporate barrier and is dazed and perplexed. She doesn’t realize that her male competitors sense that it may be Pandora with her box that is knocking on the doors of power.

The ritual of the bachelor party is still prevalent today, where the groom is given one last good fling before he goes to his doom. Professor Henry Higgins in the modern musical, based on “Pygmalion”, Lerner and Lowe’s “My Fair Lady” quips….

Let a woman in your life and you’re plunging in a knife. Let the others of my sex tie the knot around their necks, I’d prefer a new edition of the Spanish Inquisition than to ever let a woman in my life!…..Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that. Their heads are full of cotton, hay and rags. They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating, fascinating, calculating, agitating, maddening, and infuriating hags! (Lerner and Lowe, 1959, p. 112)

The curse is alive today and Pandora is still the “fatal attraction”, adorned by the fashion designers whose models may be anorexias in beauty’s garb. Poor Pandora was she really meant to become the projected vision of an angular masculine twig with no bosom, no rounded hip, no fertility? What has become of her magic girdle, her crown of gold, her iridescent gown, woven by Athene herself, the master weaver? And what of the aging crone with Aphrodite fading who has nothing left but the blame because she may be deserted by her husband who goes off with another Pandora, she is left with Rhea-coronis, the death aspect.

Owning the myth of Pandora for today’s woman means to be willing to live with the knowledge of the curses and the gifts, to be wholly conscious of the dark and the light side of her own psyche, and to be willing to enter into the process of transformation of the feminine as expressed within her and as expressed within the collective. Without fight or flight, without revenge, without sex change or facsimile, without taking on the appearances or mannerisms of the masculine, each woman is challenged as never before to embrace Pandora. To get in touch with the inner Pandora is to embrace one’s seductress, insatiable curiosity, deceiving beauty, cunning Trickster, spinner and weaver, politician, creator/destroyer, daughter/mother, and virgin/whore parts.

For the hope shut up within the box is delusive Hope to keep us hoping for a return to lost paradise. As Hillman so aptly puts it:

“Because hope has this core of illusion it favors repression. By hoping for the ‘status quo ante’, we repress the present state of weakness and suffering and all it can bring. Postures of strength are responsible for many major complaints today – ulcers, vascular and coronary conditions, high blood-pressure, stress syndrome, alcoholism, highway and sport accidents, mental breakdown. The will to fall ill, like the suicide impulse, leads patient and physician face to face with morbidity, which stubbornly returns in spite of all hope to the contrary.” (Hillman, 1976, p.158).

While Hope is considered to be an inherent and instinctual gift of optimism in humans, it has been misunderstood in the context of the Pandora myth. This misunderstanding is still with us today commemorated in the custom of the bride’s Hope Chest, filled with gifts and adornments to grace a future home.

A delusional Hope is born of the Trickster archetype. Anthropologist Angeles Arrien approaches the subject this way: In Wokini, Olympic runner Billy Mills offers eight lies of Iktumi (the trickster or liar figure) from the Lakota tradition that can jeopardize happiness or set up obstacles in a person’s life. Iktumi’s ancient invitation to self-deception follows:

  • If only I were rich, then I would be happy.
  • If only I were famous, then I would be happy.
  • If only I could find the right person to marry, then I would be happy.
  • If only I had more friends, then I would be happy.
  • If only I were more attractive, then I would be happy.
  • If only I weren’t physically handicapped in any way, then I would be happy.
  • If only someone close to me hadn’t died, then I could be happy.
  • If only the world were a better place, then I would be happy.

None of these illusions is true in relationship to our happiness and salvation. We obsessively strive at work and at home for as many of the eight illusions as we can… things that Iktumi tells us will make us happy. Once these goals are attained we are often stunned to find ourselves still without satisfaction, still without meaning, or still without happiness. According to Iktomi’s ways, ceasing to strive for meaning and happiness allows us to become liberated from our own fear and false attachments.

If women can understand that the underlying power and wholeness of the feminine is the mediatrix of life/death, consciousness/un-consciousness then they no longer will carry the reflection of the masculine projection of the evil “bringer”. In turn, the men may be forced inward to own the feminine aspects within themselves.

The new emerging mythic psychology calls for us to penetrate these inner domains and encounter the sacred images normally hidden from view. Like shamans, and like Orpheus and Persephane, we learn to journey to the underworld reality and return to the waking world. We learn to incorporate the mythic dimension within the physical, and be the knower of both.

© Copyright 1995, Sandra Geyer Miller, MA

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