BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature

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On The Charites

Being a devotee of *cough* "lesser-known" Deities does occasionally suck. In my case, while I honor well-known Deities such as Hermes and The Muses and Artemis and Hekate, I am also very devoted to The Charites.

The usual response to that statement is "who?"

If I said "The Graces" instead, would that help?

For the record, The Charites (or Gratiae in the Latin) are a triad* of Goddesses who preside over beauty, grace, etiquette, diplomacy, decorum, mirth, festivity, dance, song, fine conversation, fine food, elegance -- you know, all those things that people complain have been lost to modern civilization.

I think it is high time that the world rediscovered The Charites. Unfortunately, outside of the odd short entry in this or that encyclopedia of mythology, The Charites get very short shrift on the literature front. In all my years of searching, I have found a grand total of two -- count 'em two -- books that highlight The Charites. I eventually found a third that gives them more than lip service.

The first book also happens to be one of the first texts that I found after my ... um ... coming home to Paganism. I stumbled across a copy of John Sanford's Fate, Love and Ecstasy: Wisdom from the Lesser-Known Goddesses of the Greeks in a metaphysical store in California. In addition to The Charites, Sanford also studies Peitho (persuasion), Aidos (modesty/shame), Ananke (necessity), Themis (right order), Ate (folly/ruin), The Fates, The Erinyes, and Dionysus from the standpoint of a Jungian analyst; though some Pagans object to that approach, I found his book insightful. As Sanford argues in the introduction, the Olympian Deities may grab the headlines, but the lesser-known Goddesses represent the archetypal "powers of life [....] living patterns of life and energy which exist not only in the psychology of people, but in all nature and in spiritual reality. When we regard these lesser-known deities, therefore, we are also looking at how life, nature, and spirit work. This gives these deities a place of primary importance [....] these deities, and the autonomous powers in life and nature which they depict, determine how life goes on this planet of ours."

In other words, ignore them at your peril.

See the screaming heads on any news program for one example of the havoc and misery wrought by ignoring The Charites.

The second book was a fortuitous find at a local used bookstore. I had no idea this text even existed. The Origin of the Graces was published in France by Mlle Dionis Dusejour in 1777, with copperplate illustrations by CN Cochin. The edition I found is an English translation from 1888. Dusejour's story is an entirely original one; I can find no source for it in ancient mythology. That does not make it any less enjoyable, though. In Dusejour's tale, Venus is enroute back to Olympus from a festival in her honor on Cythera, when She stops on the isle of Nicaea to bathe. There, she meets a virtuous shepherd named Charis, who shows her three wondrous statues that he has carved and which the locals call The Charites, and you can guess where the story goes from there .... The prose may be a bit purple by today's standards, but the imagery is beautiful.

It was only recently that a third book was released which paid The Charites more than a passing glance. In Gifts From the Gods: Ancient Words and Wisdom From Greek and Roman Mythology, Lise Lunge-Larsen and Gareth Hinds explore the origins of various concepts and phrases, such as "echo," "hypnotize," "tantalize," and -- yes -- "grace." Over four beautifully-illustrated pages, Lunge-Larsen and Hinds explain the nature of The Charites, their place in the larger pantheon as companions of Venus, and how the Latin "gratia" came to be incorporated into English terms such as "gracious" and "gratitude." This line sums them up pretty well: "Elegant and charming, the Graces radiated generosity, beauty, and joy. .... Yet nobody was jealous of them, for their presence enhanced everyone else's beauty."

So, there you have them. *sigh* A grand total of two books -- and a bit of a third -- devoted to three of the most important Goddesses in my spiritual life. Someday soon,  I plan to rectify that shortage. In the meanwhile, if I have missed any other texts devoted to The Charites (and I hope I have), please let me know. I want the world to know more about Them.


*Usually a triad. Sometimes only a single Goddess, Charis, is named, while other ancient authors listed two or four. I personally honor the "traditional" triad of Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thaleia.

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.


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