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Reply To: Lions, and Tigers, Athena, oh my!” with Professor Mark C.E. Peterson”


Dear Mark,

Yes, thank God we don’t have to be perfect before we can approach Truth—even though the Zen people say “if you want to be Enlightened, first you have to be Enlightened”, which is probably their approach to the Socratic/Platonic anamnesis, education-as-remembering what you already know.

As for Medusa and Athena, if only they could be neatly differentiated so we could deal with them one at a time! The problem is, Athena is susceptible to transforming into Medusa in the twinkling of an eye. And, yes, you do have to get past Medusa before you can encounter Athena—that’s why Medusa’s head is on the Aegis as the guardian of the temenos of Wisdom—but you can’t do that without the help of Athena from behind the scenes, as we learn from Homer. Without Athena’s secret aid, how could Odysseus have possibly dealt with Circe?

Medusa as the guardian of the Temple of Athena is the Greek translation of “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom” (Psalm 111). Medusa is FEAR, petrifying fear. Her snake-hair is the tangle of toxic thoughts that fear produces. The question is, WHY DO WE FEAR WISDOM? Because (as the Muslims say, Sufi Islam being my own path), in order to realize Truth we will need to “die before we are made to die.” That kind of death is actually more terrifying than physical death because we must go through it in full waking consciousness. If this weren’t the case, so many people wouldn’t end up sacrificing their lives on the altar of their illusions.

Jesus said “He who tries to hold on to his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for My sake (for the sake of Truth) will find it; take up your cross (the cross of contradiction) and follow me.” But he also said, “My yoke is easy and my burden light.” When the ego confronts Truth directly—and the ego includes the thinking mind attempting to operate on its own without input from the higher intellective consciousness, the Nous—the contradictions, the dvandvas, the pairs-of-opposites, the Symplegades, will thwart it and crucify it. That’s why we need to begin by confronting only reflections of Truth, to see it only “in a glass, darkly”. This is the raison d’etre of the Sufi method of teaching (at least initially) through allusion, indirection and symbolism—Homer’s method as opposed to Plato’s and Avicenna’s, though both Plato and Avicenna also employed symbolic narrative.

I just asked my wife Jenny to name of the Power that can overcome the fear of Wisdom. Her answer was, LOVE: “Perfect love casteth out fear” (John 4:18).

~~ Charles