A good friend recently recommended I browse through Barbara G. Walker's The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. So much of what we write is steeped in mythology, authors taking bits, pieces or entire swaths of myths and using them as a base for stories or characters. But some mythology became twisted or lost in time during the transition from female-oriented to male-oriented religions in western culture. Barbara's book is a fantastic, detailed resource of women's history and perspective in world culture. I thought I'd use my blog from time to time to share information I've stumbled upon in her encyclopedia.
Take, for instance, the word clitoris. It's a solid word we erotic romance authors use on a regular basis. Or at least its shorter form of clit, a sexier version. This does not happen in solely male/male novels, in which case the history lesson doesn't apply. But did you know the word clitoris is from the Greek kleitoris, meaning "divine, famous, goddess-like?" While Greek myths personified the phallus as Priapus, the female version was an Amazon queen named Kleite. Kleite was the ancestral mother of a tribe of women warriors who founded a city in Italy.
Alternately, in Corinth, Leite was a princess "whom Artemis made grow tall and strong," an allegory of her erection. A third interpretation saw her as a nymph who loved the phallus of the sun god and followed his motion with her "head." It's fascinating to find the origins of words. Tastes vary among readers as to the sexual words they enjoy in their stories and I have heard complaints that clitoris sounds too clinical. Perhaps seeing the word's background will lend it a more romantic air, herding our minds out of the medical textbooks and into the mists of mythology.
Still, when patriarchal culture took hold, woe came to the clitoris. The primary sex organ of females was ignored. The Christian church taught women should never take sexual pleasure, and only endure intercourse for procreation. So began a history of minimal body contact between pious married couples. In a witchcraft trial in 1593 the discovery of the clitoris by the investigating authority for the first time helped to convict the witch. History also records disgusting practices of clitoral cautery, sewing together vaginal lips and clitoridectomies to cure women of masturbation.
Thankfully, western culture has emerged out of its darkest hour (in part) and women's liberation has gone far to allow women to throw off the bedsheets and proudly rediscover the little hot button of their pleasure. Not to mention vibrators. The clitoris is proof of the goddess in us all. Feel free to mention this to your male partners next time their worship isn't up to par (smile).
Any favorite female oriented myths you've rediscovered or you would like me to check for in Barbara's book? Do tell.