HomeΨηφιακή ΒιβλιοθήκηΆρθραΆρθρα (Αγγλικά)Narnou, Meropi - "Goddess Estia, symbols and myths surrounding adoption"

Narnou, Meropi - "Goddess Estia, symbols and myths surrounding adoption"

"Goddess Estia, symbols and myths surrounding adoption"

Narnou, Meropi

Myth-making, a prominent function of the human psyche, constitutes a domain for understanding and negotiating the human condition, shaping psychic processes and depicting the fantasy operation.  Mythical forms and symbolisms, as products of primal fantasies, stress primitive man’s ability to sense, if not explore introspectively, the motives behind his rational as well as irrational actions, thereby reflecting the intrapsychic conflict.  The mythical and symbolic form of the Goddess Estia, in conjunction with ancient myths often encountered in relation to adoption, can help us in our efforts to interpret the process of adopting itself.  This particular myth is therefore viewed as a useful approach for studying the issues that are raised and the problems that often exist for those involved in the venture of adoption—namely the children and the parents of our time.  

In ancient Greek mythology, the Goddess Estia was protector of home and family.  As the first-born daughter of Crone and Rea, as well as the object of religious admiration, any festivity commenced and concluded with a sacrifice made in her honor, and the most important vows were taken by her name. (Kerenyi, 1974).

At the center of every house, the hearth (named "estia" in Greek, after her), there stood a mound with blazing fire to honor the Goddess.  Moreover, on the 5th or the 10th day after the birth of a child, simultaneous with the name-giving, the infant was carried around the hearth in a ritual known as the "Αμφιδρομίες" (amfidromies).  It signaled the father’s recognition of the child and had the purpose of integrating him/her into the field of the Home and connecting him/her with the Goddess, protector of the family. (Petri, 2006).  

The ‘pleader’ also sat at the hearth, as the one banished from the city (like the adoptee) who sought to join within the new group.  This stranger was first led to the hearth because there could be no contact of any kind with someone who had not been integrated into the home. This ritual therefore had the function of opening up the household circle to someone from outside the family and eventually entering him into the familial community. (Petri, 2006).  

Thus, both those born within the House as well as the pleader-strangers, needed to follow a procedure of integration into the family, which also functioned as a means of connection with the genealogy. Symbolic recognition is needed as it doesn’t coincide to the natural one. It refers to a psychic process of acceptance into a home—the parents’ psychological realm, that is equally important in birth as is in adoption.   

To adopt—etymologically, the word comes from the Ancient Greek υιον θέσθαι: (placing a son) it means to consider and to acknowledge a child as one’s own by adoption—to accept him as one’s own.  The terminology underlines the child’s masculine gender, representative of the son who will carry on the father’s lineage. 

In ancient Greek society the institution (of adoption) was termed "εισποίησις" (eispiisis), derived from "έσω ποιώ", meaning ‘to enter’ or ‘take in’.  It referred to the adoption of an adult and not a child, whose task would be to manage the foster father’s property when there was no natural son.  The adopted son was almost always a close relative, who, by being adopted, would leave his own family and enroll in the one of his foster father.  By Athenian law, the adopted son was allowed to return to his original family with the condition that he had left behind an original son who would carry the family’s heritage.

By way of contrast, in the most common myths surrounding adoption, it is almost always the father’s hostility and the threat to his rule that lead the child to exposure.  We find the motif of abandonment in stories relating the birth and youth of many heroes, kings and religious as well as spiritual leaders, who represent different nations and who live at a distance and independently of one another.  Zeus, Moses, Kiros, Romulus, Oedipus, Karna, Paris, Perseus, Hercules, and many others, follow , according to Otto Rank (1909),  an ‘average myth’ which encompasses some basic characteristics: the child is the progeny of renowned and powerful parents—at the time of their birth or during the period of pregnancy an ominous prophecy (manifested in a dream or envisioned by an oracle) foretells the danger of the child’s coming-to-being and usually the threat he will pose to the father—consequently, the father or one of his representatives, orders the execution or exposure of the newly born.  The infant is saved by animals or people of humble origin and at his coming of age, after many adventures, finally finds his renowned parents; at which point, he takes revenge on his father, but also gains glory, wealth and recognition.  This myth seems to correspond to a view of heroism which idolizes the hero, after he bravely battles against the father, defeats him and is saved against his will.

The source of these legends is the alleged ‘family romance’, described by Freud (1909, 1939), in which the child uses fantasy to modify or manipulate his ties with his parents. (Laplanche &Pontalis, 1981). He/she imagines that he/she has two families, the current family which is humble and accepted, adopted, raised him/her (the real family) but there is an original family, into which he/she was born (the invented-symbolic family) which was great and loved him and will come back some day to save him. Both families represent the way the child feels about his famiily through the different phases of his/her life. Through this fantasy –which is a narcissistic construction-  the child manages to preserve ego ideal since he/she salvages the remnants of the relationship he once had with his parents, before realizing their limitations and deficiencies while simultaneously he can feel differently, have his own initiative, accept difference and is able of developing a sense of autonomy, as well as emotional distance from his parents.     

The adoptee senses his/her adopted status as a narcissistic injury (Schechter, 1960). The child is faced with the reality of his/her abandonment by his/her natural parents, along with memories of previous homes from which he/she was evicted—a fact which could deter the development of a basic sense of trust as well as a firm sense of identity.  The representational world of the adopted child will include two sets of parents.  This way, the ‘family romance’ fantasy is confirmed by reality and risks, instead of enriching the inner world, to bring about an attempt to reality testing or it could take the form of depressive reminiscing (Nickman, 1985).  This might make difficult the fuse the "good" and the "bad" parental images of the infantile object relations into a feasible, more realistic identification. (Brinich, 1980).  

Equally important is the parents’ part, who have to fuse their "good" and "bad" representations for their child. Parental anxiety could lead the child to suppress his/her instinctive drives. The difficulties in the narcissistic cathexis of the child by the adoptive mother (the child that reminds of her own infertility) manifest in her weakness to accept the child’s expressions of instinctuality (i.e. soiling, sexual curiosity, aggressiveness towards the adoptive parents)- proof of the "bad blood of the child". (Brinich, 1980).  This way therefore, if the different "parts" of the child remain splitted, divided into accepted and not accepted, he/she will face a serious dilemma—that of denying a part of his/her self by resigning to a ‘false self’ or denying the authority of the parents, thus adopting a provocative type of behavior. 

The split in parental images raises problems at every developmental stage as the child has to include two sets of parental representations. It also makes the resolution of the Oedipal conflict difficult (Brinich, 1980). The prohibition of incest as long as it has the status of a taboo – a psychic prohibition, is active for adoptee also. There remains another difficulty in the conflict’s resolution: the displacement to a different object might be a problem since he usually doesn’t know his blood relatives , and he is thus driven, by way of fantasy, to the position of Oedipus who didn’t know his biological parents, until it was too late.                  

It is this precise difficulty in achieving fusion and unification that we encounter in our heroes.  Oedipus, symbol of a vain and heated man, a man with crutches, is faced with the fate of every man.  A fate, which depends on the way each one of us approaches and answers to the enigma of life, to the age-old conflict between mind and matter, as well as to the struggle between instinctive expression and spirituality. (Diel, 1966). Oedipus, already angered by the abandonment he has suffered, having no symbolic parents, has also no inhibitions, killing Laius and reaching the heights of beastliness. From there on, he is married to a woman much older than him. Nevertheless, he feels no worry, he doesn’t doubts his actions. He is giving up to a narcissistic omnipotence until he becomes very old, without capacity for guilt but blaming his parents. He arrogantly denies his participation and responsibility to what has happened to him (as is described in "Oedipus in Colono") (Vaslamatzis, 1996).    

Hercules constitutes another example that is characteristic of the case in point, as a child born from the interaction between Zeus and a mortal girl.  But this birth rises Hera’s envy - the primitive mother who controls with omnipotence the child’s fate. She becomes an enemy of him and she stigmatizes him even by his name "stigmatizes him even by his name "Ηρα-κλης = κλέος της Ήρας" which means Hera’s shame. She deprives him of her psychic attribute: the ability to offer love.  This deficiency sets Hercules in opposition to the desired psychic union, and perpetuates the conflict between his powerful spiritual urge, inherited from Zeus, and his inclination towards sexual depravation, that was his weakness. Without the offer of love, Hera has denied him the ability to achieve the psychic union, so that his sexual desire cannot be sublimated and remains a perversion. (Diel, 1966). 

Hera’s envy also deprived Priapus of this quality.  As a result of Hera’s intervention, Aphrodite gave birth to a deformed child with a large tongue, huge belly and a disproportionate phallus that came out the back of his body.  Aphrodite ridded herself of the child, rejecting and abandoning it.  A shepherd found the monster and immediately realized that the strange positioning of his phallus and his hermaphrodite nature meant good fortune for the plants and animals.  Priapus is a strange God, undifferentiated, human and animal at once, a hermaphrodite; in his honor, they sacrificed mules, symbols of madness. (Kerenyi, 1974).  Indeed, Priapus is denied his symbolic parents and intellect or spirituality itself; he cannot resign from the incessant satisfaction of his urges as he does not for a moment suspend his activity to reflect on the pleasure that he seeks.  Acting instead of thinking, he rushes to a ceaseless intercourse.  He even wanted to attack and rape the sleeping Estia, who had sworn to remain chaste (Kerenyi, 1974).  Priapus, as a phallic being not yet castrated, attempts to invade the domain of the Home, to invade violently a house, a family, from which he had been violently evicted.    

According to most studies, the main symptoms for which most children are referred to psychotherapy are behavioral ones—namely, behavior that is characterized as impulsive, hyperactive, provocative, aggressive and antisocial. {(Barnes, 1953); (Clothier, 1943); (Comments, 1972); (Eiduson and Livermore, 1953); (Goodman and Magno-Nora, 1975); (Jackson, 1968); (Menlove, 1965); (Nevrla, 1972); (Nickman, 1985); (Offord et al., 1969); (Reeves, 1971); (Schechter et al., 1964); (Simon and Senturia, 1966) as referred in Brinich, 1980}.  By this behavior, the child that has been deprived tries to make a self-therapeutic action as Winnicott (1956) said, and to test the loyalty of the parents—sometimes in a way that is destructive, since the child’s anxiety is not appeased after the "trial", which leads him/her to repeat the challenge. It is as if attempting to impose disorder—an invasion of impulsive drives, challenging the order that the parents wish to impose.  This is a challenge through which the child claims acceptance and containment of his/her entire self.  Here, it seems that unification of libidinal and aggressive instincts has not been achieved, as acting out prevails in the absence of elaborate reasoning of the symbolic parents.  The child finds him/herself inside the domain of the Home—Estia—yet the figure of Hermes is missing, which is complementary to that of Estia.  Almost without exception, in all depictions of Estia—which are few in number—the Goddess is always shown at Hermes’ side.  This way, the firmness and immobility of the Goddess is related to and is a prerequisite for Hermes’ own immobility. (Petri, 2006).  The container is complementary  to the potential for movement from one point to another, thus ensuring psychic organization and psychic motility-functionality.   

Parents can ensure this procedure when they have the capacity to process the ambivalence without resorting to externalization and projection. They need to process their own narcissistic injury, a result of their inability to conceive, as well as the possible conflicts relating to sexuality, reproduction and parenthood and the reasons for wanting the child.  They need to have resolved their Oedipal conflicts in order to allow themselves to take someone else’s child without activating feelings of guilt that might cause them to feel as if they have stolen their adopted child or pressured to act out ‘rescue fantasies’. These are processes that may be further aggravated by the painful procedure of adoption, which renders parents the objects of ‘trial and judgment’ and childifies them, making them feel the need to prove their ability as parents, both to the ‘services’ and to their own parental imagos.       

The processing of these issues will render feasible the creation of a positive representation for the child, in which it is wanted, but also the creation of a memory of a time when he/she would feel/felt worthy and loved by his mythical parents.  In due course, we will see the way in which therapy attempts to provide a space for the creation of such representations, a space offering protection and inclusion of all parts of the self.



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