Many people are familiar with the Greek myth in which Metis, the goddess of wisdom, is portrayed as the first wife of Zeus. Zeus became alarmed when the oracle of Gaia prophesied that the second child of Metis, a boy, would grow to be more powerful than his father and would usurp the throne. Zeus swallowed Metis to forstall the prophesy, but Metis was already pregnant and gave birth to her first child, the goddess Athena, within the body of Zeus. Zeus suffered from an unbearable headache. Hephaestus split open the head of Zeus with an axe and Athena was born as an adult, fully armed. Zeus apparently survived the birth unharmed.
What can this strange, almost grotesquely humorous myth mean, if myths mean anything at all? I have thought about this myth from the point of view of anthropology, history, sociology, and depth psychology, and from the perspective of each of these disciplines I came to the same conclusion. Metis was an Oceanid, an ocean goddess, and hence an earth or planetary goddess in a special sense. The ocean is always "unfathomable", and the wisdom of the earth is unfathomable and ineffable in terms of language and the logic that language imposes upon the mind, because language names or identifies objects and persons, and creates the illusion that each object and person is distinct and separate from all other objects and persons. Named objects and persons are supposed to be related to each other in the manner specified and allowed by the inherent "logic" of language, its grammatical structure. The noun is a subject that performs an action (the verb) and thereby affects an object, another noun. Language structures our thought so thoroughly and insidiously that we are not even aware of the fact that it shapes our perception. Brain scientists tell us that the function of the ego, the consciousness of "I", is not so much to perceive the world, but to filter and limit the almost unlimited perception of the unconscious mind, so that the ego can survive and perform practical tasks without being inundated by "inner" and "outer" sensations. In the Metis wisdom of the original human being there is actually no distinction between inner and outer, subject, verb, and object. There is no distinction between spiritual and physical. In the truest sense past and present do not exist either, for the eternally recurring cycles of the day, the lunar month, and the year exist in an omnipresent, repeating moment.
When Zeus swallows Metis a very different consciousness, one that we would immediately recognize as our own, replaces the original Metis consciousness of the oceanic human soul. We cannot identify the moment in history when human beings first began to use language, but we can conceive of a process in which language was at first completely oral, and then became written. The first writings recorded the lives and teachings of the gods, but in time these writings were supplanted by the laws (the teachings) of a single authoritative, masculine god. This god is Zeus in the myth of Metis, whether he is called Zeus (as in Greece) or Marduk or Shamash (in Babylonia) or Yahweh (in Israel). The Metis wisdom is the wisdom of the heart, and the ethics of the heart observes the truth of the heart in the present moment. In the Metis consciousness the present moment is the only time that actually exists. The ethics of the written law, on the other hand, appeals not so much to the truth of the present moment but to a fear of the future (hell) or a desire for the future (heaven). The human being who lives according to the law does not live from the heart but from the ego, which is aware of itself as an isolated being with a past and a future. The ego fears and the ego desires. This is the human being that we identify as human, who is no longer an animal. The ego's fears and desires inevitably become obsessive, and the law of the masculine god is not simply a tablet of stone with 10 commandments, but an elaborate series of books with hundreds if not thousands of precepts, that only a college of priests can interpret. This is the Torah, and this is the Qur'an. The priesthood (or in the case of Islam, the clerics or imams) control the people, for they can open or close the portals of heaven and hell for the congregation that lives not according to the heart, but according to their fear or desire for an imagined future.
Fortunately the child of Metis is a daughter, and Athena, like her mother, is a goddess of wisdom. The Athenic wisdom is inevitably feminine, for only a goddess can reinterpret the original Metis consciousness in terms that the human ego, with its faculty of language and its perception of time, can understand. The fact that the original Metis wisdom is feminine in its essence does not, by any means, preclude men from becoming the voice and presence of Athena in a world dominated by religions and priesthoods. The gender of the physical body does not prevent any human being from accessing the feminine wisdom of the original human being. It must be observed that the wisdom of Athena is intellectual not only in form but also in content, and therefore can serve only as a substitute (and not a completely adequate substitute) for the Metis consciousness. The wisdom of Athena is philosophy, whether Athena appears in the meditations of the philosopher king Marcus Aurelius, or the writings of Karl Marx or Sigmund Freud, effectively destroying the priesthoods. Alas, the human being still experiences himself or herself as an ego with a fear or a desire for a future, and a new priesthood emerges in the form of the communist party or the ranks of modern psychiatrists.
The only solution for the dilemma of humanity will be the birth of the son of Metis that the oracle of Gaia prophesied would one day usurp the throne of Zeus. This son does not appear in the myth, but his birth is inevitable, for the oracle cannot be mistaken. Do we find this son in the person of Yeshua ha-Mashiach, who supplants the god of the Torah and replaces thousands of written laws with the simple teaching of the Sermon on the Mount? Or do we find the son of Zeus in the man or woman who meditates and in the silence of meditation begins to open the heart to a consciousness that is unconditioned by fear and desire, a consciousness that once again knows only the truth of the present moment? Just as every human being is Metis and every human being is Zeus, so also every human being is the prophesied son of Metis who will, as the son of his mother, embody his mother's awareness.
Below: Athena inspires the meditations of Marcus Aurelius.