All Beliefs are Welcome Here!
The word “myth” has a number of meanings, and myth has, potentially, a number of purposes. The meaning that does not concern us is “falsehood”---we do not, anymore, think that myth is less valuable because it lacks physical reality. It does not matter whether or not Aphrodite and Adonis actually existed or still exist, or whether, in some remote past, Adonis did or did not die at the hands of Aphrodite’s jealous husband. The myth of Aphrodite and Adonis fulfilled a social purpose. It was a “coming of age” story for girls in a society in which people did not marry for love, but for the sake of their families. Sometimes the bride and groom did not even meet each other before the marriage. As we might imagine, it could be emotionally painful to enter into such a union.
Adonis symbolized the lover that girls imagined they could have as they reached the age of puberty. The ideal lover, however, was not the man that a young woman would actually marry. The story and ritual of the “gardens of Adonis” helped girls cope with the disappointment they would probably feel upon meeting their future husbands. In the early springtime girls would plant wheat seeds in a small clay pot. They kept the soil in the pot moist as the seeds sprouted and grew. When the weather became hot the girls took their pots to a spring of water and hurled them into the pool, smashing them. Then they dressed in black, mourning and crying for the love that they had lost.
If Adonis was the ideal lover, Hephaestus was the very real husband that Aphrodite did not love. Her father, Zeus, arranged the marriage between his beautiful daughter and the homely smith. Hephaestus knew the magic of creating weapons and jewelry, but that did not interest Aphrodite. She might as well have hurled her hopes and dreams into a rocky pool when she married him.
In contrast to Christian myth and ritual, the myth of Aphrodite and Adonis was not comforting. It did not promise a future happiness. It was an immersion in cold reality that paradoxically enabled young women to find contentment in their actual marriages. Contentment is not joy or ecstasy, but it is peace. When one lets go of desires it is possible to find peace.
Below: The gardens of Adonis.