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The naked Athena and the history of anasyrma


The term anasyrma comes from the old greeks, it means lifting up ones skirt to reveal your genitals. The use of the anasyrma is diverse; warding of demons, entertainment, protest, shocking (male) warriors and rituals. The most famous case of anasyrma, is that of goddess Baubo, she utilizes her genitals to reinvigorate Demeters spirit.

Demeter is the goddess of fertility and the earth; she is the mother of Persephone. When Persephone is kidnapped by god of the underworld Hades, Demeter scours the earth in agony. Crops wither, women go barren and the earth grows cold. When Baubo finds Demeter in this state of misery, she decides to cheer her up. Baubo, standing in front of Demeter, starts making obscene jokes in metric language while raising her skirts (anasyrma). Her sacred act, speaking in verse and moving in rhythm, shocks the earth goddess who bursts into a loud laughter. This gives her the energy to search for her daughter again, and in the end she reunites with persephone

Baubo is another name for goddess Iambe. You might know iambic as the iambic pentameter, a poetic rhythm used a lot by Shakespeare (da-Dum da-Dum). This rhythm sounds like a heartbeat, which is the first rhythm we hear when we are still in the womb. This concept of rhythm paves the way for a resolution of conflict, for it introduces a pendulum and as a consequence, a cycle. It reassures that every low will be followed by a high, dark will sway to light, death will be reborn. Baubo showing her vulva is the ultimate force of life

According to her, Iambe’s vulva epitomises a cosmic point, the place from where all begin and all end, the place where the end meets the beginning and the beginning meets the end in a cyclic alternation. Her body is the metaphor of a gateway, it brings to mind the Uroboros, the archetypal snake that is depicted eternally eating its own tail. In her uninhibited humour Iambe provides “the cure for both depression and infertility: as if there is something so outrageous in sex that it can cure a disease of the spirit with the medicine of laughter by way of the genitals’ - Vagopoulou

I love how Clarissa Pinkola Estés names it in “women who run with the wolves”, she describes Demeter laughing with full belly laughs. Women are often conditioned to be quiet and suck in their stomach, which directs the breath to the chest which can cause anxiety. Generally, holding your belly can cause problems with the pelvic floor, posture and more, thus release the belly with a big laugh is healing on many levels. Thus setting the stage for pussy power, in a very literal and visceral sense. The story is often told, retold, condemned and celebrated.

Marina Abramovic

In the Balkan Erotic Epic, Abramovic shows the relation between gods and people in Balkan folklore. The erotic is a pathway to the divine, showing ones genitals is a symbol of fertility and agricultural rites.

Sheela na gig

In Ireland, a similar deity to Baubo surfaced around the 12th centrury. This Sheela (woman) na gig (genitals), was a figure that spread their vulva. It was said to symbolize fertility or ward off evil. Modern day feminist have reclaimed the figurine to bring light to feminist struggles. Female sexuality is often veiled in sin and other negative connotations. The woman behind the resurgence of Sheela na gig finds it important to take control of the narrative. 'Some scholars thought the Sheela was an image of evil, or the embodiment of sin, but we see the sexuality of the sheela as postive and empowering.

Naked athena

Through history, we saw that the anasyrma can be a powerful move to show strength, and challenge evil. During the height of the black lives matter movement and the protests against police brutality (especially to people of color), a protestor in Portland sat down naked in front of a line of military police. She wanted to show the police who they were shooting at and use her vulnerability as strength.

"My message," she says, "other than my feminine response of wanting to show them what my version of vulnerability looks like,…was we're all out here, these protesters, [and] the only thing we have in common is, we have masks on and we're out here at night. None of these people have weapons. Empty their pockets, take off their clothes—nobody has weapons here. I just wanted them to see what they're shooting at."

Especially the relation to Baubo, Sheela na gig and Demeter, makes this a statement of birth/life/fertility in the face of death and destruction.

With all the shame and taboo around genitals, these stories are important. They reveal the glory and power of bodies in a way that deserves honor and celebration. It encourages us to look in the mirror and admire our genitals, to see it as the pathway to both life and death. If anything, these stories allow us to laugh, be light and sit through the darkness, with a promise of inevitable relief.


Iambe – From Lament to Obscenity: Rhythm and music in the Eleusinian myth

and mysteries – Angelique Vagopoulou

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Laatst vroeg iemand mij “is dit oké?” toen die mij wilde gaan beffen. Hoewel ik doorgaans erg open ben over seksualiteit en het fijn vind om over intimiteit te praten, is het tijdens de seks soms nog



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