Flashback Friday – That Time We (Almost) Made a New Goddess

Mesperyian is an original creation by a high school student and posted to Booksie in 2009. The story has it that she was imagined into existence by Hades because he was depressed that Persephone was topside for a bit and he really wanted a child with her but couldn’t have them. But, Mesperyian came into being nonetheless and (perhaps because she’s a project of imagination) word of her striking beauty reached Mount Olympus. Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, grew jealous and burned Mesperyian’s face. So changed, she asked Hephaestus for a mask of intimidation and became vengeful, a goddess of torture and punishment.

A 2015 Tumblr post got to the question of what to do when asked which Greek goddess is the most beautiful. One user offered to name Persephone, and another said to name Mesperyian.

And, this triggered some backlash. Mesperyian is not attested in ancient sources and some pagans (and possibly others) disagreed with even the concept of worshipping her, because she is not “real”.

That’s not a question this post will get into. In part because I’m not sure how much it all matters (and let’s be clear, I think, at one point, all the gods become entities one can interact with, completely independent of whatever spawned them–and still powerful for it, too).

The matter is: Tumblr especially thought that Mesperyian was real. They believed it. Some people asked about, and possibly began, worshipping her. People looked her up to try and find or deepen a connection. In short, they treated her as if she were an extant goddess. Her attestation in ancient myth didn’t matter, at least, not initially.

And it was all very believable. We all know someone who wants to have children, and many of us probably know someone who struggles in that regard. We’ve all heard (perhaps simplified) myths of Aphrodite being jealous of the beauty of others, especially when it prompts the worship of the other beautiful person over Aphrodite (which may, at that point, be a matter of enforcing the “rules” for dealing with the divine).

I haven’t read the short story, and I’m sure it has that vibe of “OC Do Not Steal”. However, what matters here is what the story has grown beyond. It isn’t a short story by a high school student who hasn’t thought about their characters and motivations. It became a fledgling myth. People took it seriously for quite a while.

Then they walked away.

There’s a bias in our society toward “older” things. There always has been, and it goes back to forever. People have said their ideas or practices are “ancient” or “given by the gods” for ages. They care about “older” because “older” = “authentic” in their minds. And this isn’t always true. The humors theory, for example, has been completely debunked, but it’s old as the day is long. The earliest theories of psychology developed by Dr. Sigmund Freud are also complete bunk, and we rightly discount them.

Yet, when it comes to religion, people want “older”. For a while Wicca sold itself as “the old ways” to gain members. Reconstruction religions gain steam by trying to put together the ways ancient people worshipped (with varying regard for the way we live now vs. the way they lived then). Naturally a new goddess is anathema to all of that. People want “real” Greek myth, with all that entails, and want it to never change (and usually, they want the Greek myth they learned in middle school, which doesn’t account for the complexity, layered meaning, metaphor, or polytheist lens the myths originally had). Humans think of mythology as like an ancient source material, something to draw on and work with but never, under any circumstances, add to. If GRRM dies before finishing A Song of Ice and Fire (which is likely), then his books will be given this treatment, too. I seem to recall that the fans of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo had some pretty serious problems with The Girl in the Spider’s Web because it was written after Larsson’s passing (honestly Spider’s Web is terrible compared to its predecessors, but that’s because Larsson was not around to actually write it).

In a word, humans want “old”, which they equate with “real”. “Old” varies on a case-by-case basis, but this rule generally holds for all things but the field of science (where seminal works are respected but new research valued more).

It’s a strange thing, because looking back over the incident, Mesperyian was simply treated as an obscure goddess no one had ever heard of. I’m not sure how the idea got started off of one short story, but it did. When I consider it today, at this point in my journey into polytheism and paganism, I realized: we almost made a new goddess. And that would’ve been a really good thing for the world. It’s an instance of living mythology, of living polytheism, and it petered out because of the value we place on the old.

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