According to Greek Mythology, Pandora was the first human woman, created by Hephaestus, who moulded her out of earth. The Four Winds breathed life into her and the gods dressed her in a silver gown and adorned her with an embroidered veil, garlands, and a crown of silver. Each of the gods gave her gifts and talents, including curiosity from Hera. Beauty from Aphrodite. Musical talent from Apollo. Hermes gave her the name Pandora, “All-gifted” or “All-Gifting” in some interpretations. Details vary depending on version.
Zeus ordered it as punishment for Prometheus stealing fire for Man. Pandora was meant to be a “beautiful evil”, the ancestor of all females to come. She was said to be a vision, irresistible.
From her the race of women and female kind:
of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who
live amongst mortal men to their great trouble,
no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.
Hesiod, Greek poet
We know of Pandora from the myth of the Pandora Box. Given as a wedding present, this box, really a jar, unbeknownst to Pandora contained all of humanity’s evils. When she opened it, in the shape of moths, ills such as disease, poverty, sadness, pain, and death flew out. Some say they were the seven deadly sins. In one version, Pandora also let out the last creature before closing the box/jar. This was Hope, who was like a dragonfly and healed all the wounds inflicted upon Pandora by the evils.
This is an origins myth that explains the presence of evil in the world. Against Zeus’ instructions and driven by her curiosity, Pandora opened the box/jar. It is said that the opening of the jar/box brought the Golden Age to a close. According to The Encyclopedia of Ancient and Forbidden Knowledge, the first race was ethereal beings, who “cannot be strictly classified with humanity; nor were they really incarnated in gross matter.”1 In the Silver Age, Man was no longer immortal, now subject to the cycle of death and rebirth. This is the myth as passed down from Hesiod though it is likely the result of many early myths, which had Pandora married to Prometheus in some and to his brother Epimetheus in others. The jar/box is believed in some versions to have been full of blessings.
Interestingly we also find a tale of a box and curiosity with Psyche and Eros. Because of her indescribable beauty, Psyche is worshipped as the goddess Venus’ earthly manifestation. Venus is not happy. Instead of condemning her to a poor marriage as demanded by Venus, Eros (Venus’ son) falls in love with Psyche. Urged on by her jealous sisters, Psyche betrays Eros’ trust and he flees. Lovesick, she searches for Eros and seeks the help of goddesses who do not help for fear of damaging their kinship with Venus. Psyche decides to seek out Venus who sends her on errands that, without help, Psyche is sure to perish. The last one is for Psyche to retrieve beauty from Persephone in the underworld. She is told not to open the box of divine beauty. She does and deadly sleep flies out, putting her under until Eros finds and revives her.
This is also a creation myth, of how woman was created, not from the rib of Adam, and nonetheless made secondary to man and responsible for the wrongs in the world. What has been passed down reflects the patriarchal society and a deeply misogynist view. As we know our patriarchal society has destroyed many matrilineal practices and beliefs and subjugated the feminine.
It is hardly surprising that this origins myth which tells of the the birth of evils in the world and the birth of the first woman is saying that all women are deceitful and seductive for their own purposes. “Man eater.” Destroyer of great men. Man is innocent and helpless in face of woman’s beguiling ways. This is why women are told they must cover up and not wear short short skirts and in some cases, cover their hair. Men, and even, reading this may feel this is an overstatement; this has been reality for a very long time and because it is systematic, it is subtle and integrated. When someone has privilege, that person has blinkers and cannot know fully what a segment of society experiences, through different cultural and other types of filters as well. These are not statements against people, and against the system that exists because we choose to ignore it for whatever reasons.
The stories we are told, the stories that get passed, the stories we re-tell, through the language and the vibration of words, perpetuate ancient and primal prejudices and fears. Often, like Chinese Whispers, the stories can become embellished and distorted. Because far too many people do not question history and what has become mundane.
This myth is being retold here, in the hope that we do question the roots of why women are still treated like second-rate citizens around the world, when once they were not, and why the feminine is seen as weaker, when a balance of both energies – feminine and masculine – is necessary.
The qualities of the feminine – receptive, intuitive, yin, yielding – are seen as undesirable in our extroverted left-brain dominated world, which is clearly lopsided.
How do we achieve real equality when our historical, literary, political, and comical writing and speech are littered with such misogynistic attitude, sometimes disguised as funny jokes that some people laugh at out of habit, ignorance, or other cultural conditioning. Silence and inadvertent condoning of such subtle hatred and fear of women are not harmonious with the change we want to see in this world.
All “fallen” women, rise! Rise once again.
We must restore the whole story, and not believe a woman or a man must be this or that, boxed in by fears and prejudices and hidden agendas for power and control. We must stand firm in who we truly are, unencumbered by the less-than-kind words from people who hardly know us and yet feel compelled to share what they think they know.
Believe not when they judge you as a failure as a woman, daughter, sister, wife, mother (man, son, brother, husband, father). Only we have the right, and the ability, to know where we are and even then, we have less than the entire picture.
So be kind, to yourself first and foremost.
Another question that is sparked by the story of Pandora is whether Hope is good or evil. Being part of a jar/box full of evils, it can argued that Hope itself is an evil. Hope, that glimmer of light, can make Man blindly overstay an impossible situation, driven by faith or denial, head in the sand. Friedrich Nietzsche said it is in fact the worst of the evils because it “prolongs man’s torments.”
What is a world without hope? Perhaps we do not enjoy the fruits of our efforts, perhaps it is future generations that do. Hope gives us strength to stay a course which while impossible to others, we trust in our heart of our hearts to be the path that will take us through. Maybe hope alone is not enough, and need to be accompanied by trust, endeavour, and a vision for something larger than ourselves.
Good and evil is another facet of the dualistic world, an illusion of what is real. Hope is neither good nor evil. It is about our perspective, being flexible and steadfast. Being human is learning to live in ambiguity, knowing the right answer in one situation, culture, or time period may not be the right one for another. Hanging onto black and white perspectives lead us to cling to a rigid way of thinking, breathing, loving, and living, a life full of reductionism and dichotomy.
When the world is seemingly thrown into chaos, we must more than ever find our centre and being curious about ourselves – why do we respond and make the choices we do – and about what is outside the “normal” lines may just be the prescription. This tale is full of vengeance, hate, disrespect, and fear. It warns us against exercising curiosity, an innate part of being human, and for obedience, specifically to a male authority. Is that the reality we wish to re-create? Are we ready to let ourselves out of this box, and all the boxes we have put ourselves and others into?
1 The Encyclopedia of Ancient and Forbidden Knowledge. p62.