The Goddess Athena is one of the most well-known and important Greek Goddesses. She is known for being the Goddess of Wisdom and War. In this article, I will cover the 9 main symbols of Athena and their meanings and interpretations related to the Goddess.
By understanding these symbols and meanings, we can better understand who Athena is and how to activate the Athena archetype in our lives.
What does Goddess Athena represent?
The Goddess Athena represents wisdom, justice, and war. She is also associated with craftsmanship and handiwork. Symbols associated with Athena are many, and among them are the owl, the Aegis (her shield), the spear, and snakes.
In this article, I will explain 9 symbols of Athena and their meanings.
The main symbols of Athena
Athena is a Goddess of many symbols. She also has many different stories, which makes her an ancient and multifaceted Goddess. The Athena we know went through a “transformation process” until she became what we see today.
Because of this, she has symbols and meanings that are extremely popular to this day, as well as symbols and meanings that have been lost over time and forgotten. These ones were brought to light only after studies and research were carried out by dedicated people.
Let’s get started.
The owl is the main symbol associated with the Goddess Athena. The owl has always been considered one of the most sacred birds to the Goddess and she transformed into an owl herself. Owls are known to be symbols of wisdom, intelligence, perspicacity, and cunning. All of these qualities are also associated with Athena.
Not only in Greece but also in many other places the owl gains a strong meaning related to its ability to analyze situations and make the best and most timely decisions. We can see this clearly in its behavior. Owls are nocturnal hunters who observe their prey for hours and study the best way to pounce in order to feed themselves.
The owls know they have only one chance. If they miss, the prey will escape and will usually flee at a faster speed than the owl itself, making hunting impossible. That’s why they are so detailed and smart. When they attack, they hit. And that’s how they survive.
When we see the stories of the Goddess Athena, we see this behavior of the owl. It’s like an archetype activated by Athena. At the moment she conquered the power to govern the main city-state of the time, the city of Athens, she could only offer a single gift to the local people.
Either hit and win or miss and not have a second chance to rule over the city. Just like an owl in the moment of hunting.
While Poseidon offered the waters of the sea, Athena was incisive in offering the first olive tree. After becoming the guardian of the city, Athens became a major local commercial center, and olive trees flourished grandly, offering food and oil in abundance.
The owl is the animal that represents Athena. She and the owl are two sides of the same coin. When you see Athena’s owl here, reflect on the following: Are you making the right decisions in your life? Are you calmly and patiently analyzing situations so that you can act and choose what to do? Or are you acting on impulse and letting your emotions speak louder? Remember that the owl waits for the right moment to act so as not to lose its food. Learn to wait too.Oracle of Athena, card 01
The olive is another very important symbol of the Goddess Athena. In addition to the olive also being associated with wisdom, leadership, and strength, qualities unique to the Goddess, the olive was considered a divine gift, as it was given to the Goddess by her father, Zeus.
When Athena disputed power over Athens against Poseidon, it was through the olive tree that she won. The production of olives in the region of Greece was very important to establish Athens and the Attica region as one of the main commercial centers of that time.
Olive trees and olives are attributed to Athena and can still be found in abundance in Greek lands. Offerings made from olives were not only offered to Athena, but also to other deities such as Zeus and Aphrodite.
Olive and olive trees are symbols of Athena that represent wisdom, strength, and leadership. In addition to offering food, shade, wood, and oil, they inspire with their beauty and exuberance. When you see the olive here, reflect on the following: Are you using your influence to inspire people and help everyone to learn more and to be better beings? Or are you taking advantage for yourself? When you inspire and help others, do you do it knowing how far you can go or do you give too much of yourself and dry up your leaves? Put yourself in Athena’s olive tree place and share what you have best, without harming yourself.Oracle of Athena, card 02
3) Shield (Aegis)
In many representations and statues of the Goddess, we find her with one of her main symbols: the shield, also known as the Aegis. The shield is one of the most recognized symbols of Athena because it was given to her by her father, Zeus, and was known to be very resistant, and virtually indestructible.
The Aegis is a symbol that represents the strength and courage of the Goddess, as well as a symbol of protection. In this representation holding the shield, Athena takes on a more warlike meaning for herself. In very old representations, it is said that Athena did not have warlike symbols like the shield or the spear. More “modern” versions of the Goddess have brought her closer to the warrior and just aspect, providing the shield.
The Aegis is the shield of Athena, one of the main symbols of the Goddess. When encountering her here, reflect on the following: Are you using your shield to protect yourself in battle or to hide? If you are hiding and hiding what you know, wouldn’t it be better to lose your fear, stand up, and move forward using the shield to protect yourself and still inspire others to stand up as well? Life can be a daily battle, but with the Aegis in our hands we are able to use our wisdom to always move forward and pursue our goals, just as the wise Athena always did.Oracle of Athena, card 03
The snake is a symbol of Athena that not everyone can easily associate her with. While we usually have the snake representing renewal or protection in antiquity (see the symbols of Goddess Gaia, for example) or even representing cunning, shrewdness, and malice (like the main symbol of Lilith, for example), with Athena the meaning is different.
If you start searching for images of statues of Athena and symbolic representations of the Goddess, you will find some in which she has a snake by her side. This snake is there, near Athena’s feet, and it means strength. The strength needed to impose oneself and defend what is yours and your choices.
It seems complex. But there is an episode in Athena’s history that explains and shows this well. It is said that one day she visited Hephaestus, the blacksmith God, so that he could forge new weapons for her. When Hephaestus saw Athena’s beauty in his forge, he could not control himself and tried to force a relationship with her.
Athena imposed herself and managed to prevent Hephaestus from taking her. However, Hephaestus’ fertile liquid (I’ll write it like this to avoid complaints!) fell on Athena’s leg, which she cleaned and threw on the ground. At that very moment, Erichthonius was born, a snake, son of Athena that symbolizes her strength. (Erichthonius is also considered the son of Gaia and Hephaestus)
The snake is one of Athena’s symbols that not everyone knows. It symbolizes the Goddess’ strength to assert herself and seek what is rightfully hers, to make happen what she desires, and to achieve justice. When encountering the snake here, reflect on the following: Are you acting according to your will or are you letting other people or society shape you? Do you feel that you are experiencing some kind of censorship in your thoughts, speech, or desires? If so, what are you doing to assert yourself and show who you really are? Value yourself.Oracle of Athena, card 04
The distaff is one of the most powerful symbols of Athena. This is one of those symbols and meanings that have been lost over time. Before Athena was associated with war, she was a goddess linked to craftsmanship and manual labor, mainly weaving.
Athena was the one who protected and taught the art of weaving. This is so strong and significant that the main ritual dedicated to the goddess, called Panathenaea, consisted of selecting the best craftswomen to make a new garment for the goddess’ statue. The statue then had its current clothing removed, was taken to the sea, bathed, and brought back to the temple. There, the new garment was offered to her.
The conflict between Athena and Arachne also shows how important the loom was for the goddess. In one version, Arachne manages to weave something much more beautiful and well-crafted than Athena, leaving the goddess furious. Unable to control her anger, she punishes Arachne by turning her into a spider to weave forever.
The distaff is one of the symbols of Athena that have been lost over time and are not always remembered and associated with the goddess. Athena is a great craftswoman and she can spin and weave her own choices and her own destiny. When you see the distaff here, reflect on the following: are you spinning and weaving your own path based on your principles and choices? Do you respect your desires with wisdom and intelligence? When you see someone else weaving a different path than yours, how do you feel? Do you feel inspired or envious? Do you control your emotions so that they do not overwhelm reason?Oracle of Athena, card 05
Wings in general are one of the symbols associated with Athena that not everyone remembers or associates with her. This is because wings are attributed to the Goddess of Victory Nike (or Niké). There are many studies that suggest that Athena and Nike are the same Goddess, with Nike being an aspect of Athena. Other studies suggest that they are separate Goddesses. Either way, it is very common to find statues of Nike in Athena’s temples, often in the hands of Athena!
Nike is the daughter of Pallas. Athena, in one of her myths, is also the daughter of Pallas. This again suggests that the two may be aspects of each other. In other myths, Pallas is a Goddess also attributed to war and battles who was accidentally killed by Athena. It’s quite complicated.
“The Winged Victory,” as Nike is described, symbolizes victory over all aspects of a dispute, including musical, cultural, and theatrical. Athena is usually more associated with military victory.
In any case, Nike’s wings can be interpreted as a face and symbol of Athena.
The wings of Nike (or Niké), the Goddess of Victory, are also considered symbols of Athena. Athena and Nike can be considered faces of the same Goddess or completely different Goddesses. In any case, the wings of victory are often seen in the hands of the Goddess of Wisdom. When you see the wings here, reflect on the following: Do you know where you want to go with your wings? Or do you simply fly without a goal? And when you fly towards your goals, do you celebrate your victories wisely?Oracle of Athena, card 06
7) Athena’s Helmet
The helmet is another of the main symbols of Athena. The helmet is a kind of cap used in battles. It symbolizes strategy and strength, two attributes very present in the Goddess. In addition to Athena, another deity who has the helmet as a symbol is Ares, the God of War. With Ares, the symbol has the same meaning: strength and strategy.
Athena’s statues always show the Goddess wearing a helmet. Some illustrations even depict Athena’s helmet as resembling the face of an owl, reinforcing the meaning of strategy.
It is known that Athena, in much earlier times, was portrayed with fewer war accessories. That is, without the helmet, shield, and spear. Athena’s image was more feminine and more related to domestic care and craftsmanship. As she absorbed war symbols and became a Goddess of War, her image changed into what we know today. Some statues even “hide” Athena’s gender, making the Goddess a gender-neutral or androgynous deity, in an attempt to hide the fact that a Goddess, a woman, possesses so much strength and power.
The helmet is one of the most emblematic symbols of Athena. It represents strength and strategy to win battles. The helmet is used as a head protector, where ideas are born, during a fight. When you see Athena’s helmet here, reflect on the following: Do you protect your thoughts and ideas against negative influences? Do you know how to filter what is good for you and your life from what comes to contaminate your mind and leave you unfocused? What kinds of thoughts and ideas do you nurture during the day? Are they good and constructive things? Are they wise? Or are they toxic and destructive things that only generate more and more problems?Oracle of Athena, card 07
The spear is another of the main symbols of Athena. Like the helmet, the spear is also associated with military strength and strategy. In addition, the spear also symbolizes and signifies Athena’s ability to be precise and incisive in her decisions, bringing with it the symbolism and meaning of justice and making Athena the Goddess of Justice.
However, Athena was also a victim of her own emotions and did not always manage to put reason above emotion, making judgment errors and allowing herself to be carried away by feelings. The spear is long and capable of piercing an enemy from a distance. It can be thrown or used with the strength of the hands. Athena tried to use her power and wisdom to convince Paris to choose her as the rightful owner of the golden apple of discord. A mistake that ended up causing enormous damage to everyone and leading to the Trojan War.
The spear is a symbol of Athena that associates her with her war skills. The spear is a long weapon capable of piercing and can also be thrown to attack an enemy from a distance. When you see the spear here, reflect on the following: Do you use your intelligence and perspicacity so that other people feel stronger by your side? Or do you use them to pierce people and keep them away from you? When you see a problem taking place, do you promptly “take up your spear” and, with wisdom, pierce the problem before it approaches? Or do you wait for it to come closer and then you act?Oracle of Athena, card 08
9) Gorgoneion (Gorgon Head / Medusa Head)
The Gorgoneion is an important symbol of Athena. The Gorgoneion is an amulet containing the head of a Gorgon. This amulet is mainly used by Zeus and Athena for protection against enemies. Athena usually wears the Gorgoneion on her chest, as a brooch fastening her clothes. Another common way she wears it is on her shield, the Aegis. On the Aegis, the Gorgoneion contains the head of the most fierce Gorgon of all, Medusa.
Athena and Medusa share common stories. Many of them suggest different ways in which Athena punished Medusa, turning her into a Gorgon. It is important to know that it was Athena who suggested the strategy and the way Perseus would defeat Medusa. As a prize, Athena placed Medusa’s head on her shield.
The Gorgoneion is a symbol of Athena that represents protection and also means strength and victory. Athena and Zeus use this amulet to protect themselves. Athena even placed the head of Medusa, a Gorgon, on her shield to symbolize her cunning and wisdom in creating the perfect strategy for Perseus to defeat her. When you see the Gorgoneion here, reflect on the following: Do you know your true allies and enemies? Do you use your wisdom to recognize each of them without letting emotion or affection get in the way? When we follow Athena’s path and become wiser, we naturally attract false allies who are ready to bring us down. Do you protect yourself from them?Oracle Athena, card 09
These are the 9 main symbols of Athena. The owl, without a doubt, is the most well-known, as well as the shield (Aegis) and the spear. Of the 9 symbols and meanings presented here, which one do you identify with the most when you think of Athena? Which one will you work on more when activating the Athena archetype in your life?
Tell me in the comments!