I chose to put the furies as my profile picture on Facebook today.
The furies are deities of the underworld that came into the Greek pantheon from something much older. I learned about them when I was attending college in the 80’s. When we read the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Oresteia, we also discussed the morality of the series of deaths… each one, after the first, vengeance for the previous.
- Agamemnon murdered his daughter Iphigenia,
- Clytemnestra avenged her daughter by killing Agamemnon, her husband,
- Orestes killed Clytemnestra, his mother, to avenge his father’s murder.
The furies heard the curses and prayers of the wronged, and came to mete out justice.
Super interesting deities! The furies or “Erinyes”, were created by the blood from patricide falling on Gaeia/Mother Earth. That makes me think that they are natures’ way of responding to crimes against family and love and the natural order.
I Believe Survivors
Just as the furies heard the injured and the wronged, I believe survivors. (If you do not believe Christine Blasey Ford and the too many women (and men) who have spoken about their experiences during the #metoo movement and more recently, then this is not for you. I’ll redirect you to this excellent article.)
This week the internet has been full of Fury. So much fury! Women’s fury may be one key ingredient of the saving of the race. Women on my Facebook feed are posting images of women’s power: Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, themselves looking stern, saying “no”.
In college I was learning about the furies. And I was comforting the women in my dorm who had been assaulted, raped, or sexually harassed. I wanted to see the perpetrators brought to justice but we all hesitated. The law was complex, and we were taught to be nice girls. But we did pass the names of the perpetrators among us as warnings.
I claim the furies as gods of the matrifocal cultures predating Greek city states. As often happens, the older gods show up in the cultures that supplant them. So the Odyssey and the Orestia depict the Erinyes as hags and harpies, as hysterical females with serpents for hair. The furies chased the wrongdoer and drove them mad. But still, in these stories they are powerful in their vengeance of a woman wronged.
Women on my Facebook feed are posting classical works of art that depict women murdering men. Judith and Holofernes, the Gorgon.
The Orestia goes on to describe how Athena and Apollo argue over the role of the furies. Athena, in this story, is the woman as a tool of patriarchy, denying the voice of women in favor of law. In this story Athena ends up being in the side of the law and the side of being nice. She renamed the furies “Eumenides”: the kindly ones.
Taming the Fury
Calling them Eumenides is a way of trying to tame them, make them “nice”. From then on the Eumenides could enforce justice, but only if the process of trial and law gave them the power. No longer were they able to respond to the cries for help from the wronged. No longer could they be the givers of natural consequences.Revenge and justice are rarely the same thing. The furies reacted to damage to the natural order and their actions were as simple as addition and subtraction. A life equals a life, a death demands another death. However, in line with that logic lies eternal retribution and no end nor restitution.
I learned from the Tarot cards that there are two justices. The divine justice, the kind that comes as consequences which also allows for amends or atonement. The blind justice (or two of swords) is the justice that humans attempt to achieve. Blind justice stripped the power of natural consequences from the furies. By establishing the rule of law, Athena and Apollo did attempt to stop the endless eye for an eye cycle that the furies were pursuing, but rather than finding an avenue for atonement or amends, they simply contained that primal power.
True justice acknowledges the possibility of return to right relationship. But it also allows for natural consequences to the violation of natural order.
When the rule of law is used to oppress, to silence and to enforce decorum, of what use is it?
After reading and seeing parts of the Kavanaugh hearing I had an excruciatingly stiff neck. When I started receiving invitations to change my Facebook profile picture to plain black I suddenly put it together. Silencing the survivors and pain around my throat chakra. I was in so much pain I could not even sit at my computer to try to give voice to this blog post.
We need the voices of women, of survivors, of the marginalized and the wronged, now.
Are You Furious?
Where are or Who are the furies now? It would seem that social media has taken their forms. Are memes, animated gifs, and video shorts how natural consequences respond to the cries of the wronged and oppressed!? There truly is enough to drive anyone mad.
Instead of passively clicking “like”, or changing our Facebook profile picture, we could strive to be the hands, voices and instruments of natural justice, (or Karma as many people in the West seem to call it). Perhaps we need to be the voice of Gaeia.
The law can imperfectly exact some justice, but there are also ways and places where it ties the hands of justice: de-fangs the furies.
We hope for consequences for wrong doing. We hope that that the liar, the cheater, the avaricious has a failed business because people do not choose to trust them or do business with them. We hope that the rapist or harasser become involuntarily celibate and is lonely. We hope that the survivors of racism, colonialism, sexism, capitalism, gender binary oppression, all the survivors have voices that are heard by the furies.
We are the furies. We Are the hands and voices and forces for justice on this earth. We hope that those who are not survivors of these things, but are allies, or just people with compassion, will also live according to the natural justice of the furies.
No, not hope: we persist, and we will prevail.