Sweet Muse of Madness
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It was both a happy and sad day for Ilithyia when she learned she had been chosen by Phanes, the new God-King of the Sacred Grove, to be his wife and God-Queen. The happiness came from the fact that she had loved Phanes since childhood, when they were growing up together on her parents’ farmhold of Thessalia, and Phanes was known only as the orphan, Single Seed. Yet Ilithyia was saddened by the reality that, although the God-Queen was the most highly revered position any woman could have on the Plain, she would be confined to the Sacred Grove for the rest of her life, never again to know the embrace of her parents, Cybele and Attis, or her two brothers, Corybas and Educas.

As the years went by in the Sacred Grove, Ilithyia was plagued by doubts about her own worthiness as God-Queen, knowing that any imperfection on her part could be reflected upon the land’s ability to bring forth healthy crops. Nevertheless, she gave birth to two beautiful daughters, Parthenia and Gamelia, and seemed to garner the approval of the People.

When we meet Ilithyia in Sweet Muse of Madness, she is within her cave shelter, waiting anxiously, as she has night after night for thirteen years. She knows that, with the dawn, one of two things will happen. Either her husband will return, safe and sound, from his dark vigil as protector of the Sacred Grove, or the slayer of Phanes will appear, at which point Ilithyia and her children will be at the mercy of the new God-King.

Even without this grim burden, Ilithyia is troubled, in different ways, by her two daughters, the self-centered, impulsive Parthenia, and the naïve, vulnerable Gamelia.

Yet there is another concern to Ilithyia, as she becomes aware of a new threat possibly greater than any posed to her husband. A Patriarchal God who may undermine the Goddess arrives from the East, proselytized by a strange merchant-priest. This visitor is accompanied by a young acolyte who, despite his calm demeanor, may be the tip of a sword pointed not only at the core of the religion of the Plain, but at the hearts of the God-Queen’s daughters. How to deflect and blunt this sword is a question Ilithyia must answer in Sweet Muse of Madness.


The Great Goddess has gone by many names in many places throughout history; Cybele in Anatolia, Gaea in Greece, Isis in Egypt. The Babylonians called her Ishtar, to the Phoenicians she was Astarte, and she was Kiririsha in the land of Elam. Juno was her name to the Romans, and the ancient Irish called her Danu. In Scandinavian and Germanic myth she was referred to as Freyja, and Mati-Syra-Zemla, or Moist Mother Earth, was the name given to her in Russia long ago. The goddess of fertility in ancient Persia was Anahita, and an important Hindu goddess in India was Sarasvati, wife of the primary deity Brahma. Kuan-yin was the much beloved mother goddess in China, and Izanami, with her husband, Izanagi, first formed and fertilized the islands of Japan. Among the Aztecs, Coatlicue was the great earth mother, for the islanders of Samoa, the creator of the world was the goddess Tuli, and to this day the earth goddess Ala is one of the most popular deities in Nigeria.

Even in the same land, in the same language, the Great Goddess was referred to in many different ways. In historical Greece, as the patriarchal gods began to dominate the pantheon, the female deities became subordinate characters. They were demoted from their positions at the centers of their own cults, and became the personifications of particular aspects of the experience of womankind.

Thus Hera was the commanding matriarch entitled to respect and deference, Hestia, content before home and hearth, Demeter, cultivator of the soil, Aphrodite, who embraced both romantic love and physical lust, Artemis, running wild through the forest beneath the full moon, superior in hunting ability to any man, and of course Athena, embodiment of wisdom and justice, who lent her name to that city which first gave birth to democracy.

However, there were other goddesses who did not become a primary part of the classical Greek pantheon, and thus are not as well known in modern times. Nevertheless, they represented critical aspects of the female experience. Among the most important of these, was the goddess Ilithyia.

Ilithyia was essentially the experience of giving birth. One interpretation of her name is that Ilithyia was simply another way of referring to Hera, queen of the Olympian gods. Another view is that Ilithyia was Hera’s daughter and agent. In that latter context, Hera was said to have withheld Ilithyia’s presence during the birth labors of women Hera disliked, especially if the laboring female had been impregnated by Hera’s philandering husband, Zeus. Such was the case when the goddess of the night, Leto, one of Zeus’ many lovers, went into labor. Hera vindictively watched Leto suffer birth pangs for nine days and nights before finally allowing Ilithyia to come to Leto’s bed, at which point the twins, Artemis and Apollo, were born.

It has been speculated that in even earlier historical periods there were two Greek goddesses involved with birth, one representing the struggle of bringing forth a child, the other goddess embodying the relief and wonder in beholding a new being from one’s own body. There’s something beautiful in the fusion of those two aspects of birth giving in the character of Ilithyia. It suggests the Greeks understood that a full life had to include suffering as well as joy, and that “dancing with the Great Goddess” meant more than the pursuit of goodness and justice, but the embrace of the entire world in all its dimensions, no matter how challenging and daunting.

Thus was each and every woman the Life Force made flesh, and with each birth, the whole world reborn.