Monday, 3 March 2014


The daughter of Khronos and Rhea, wife of Zeus- Hera is the Lady of Heaven, the Mistress of Olympos and the Queen of all the Gods; she is a Great Goddess in the sense of being a universal mother.  And as any child can tell you- a mother is not always kind.  But Hera is a goddess who always has a purpose to her actions, even if those actions are viewed by others as petty or cruel. 

Hera (known to the Romans as Iuno and the Etruscans as Uni) is the goddess of marriage, the sacred union that joins together mates.  And, perhaps as an extension of this, she is an avenger of  vows and brings ill on any who break a sworn oath; and beyond that she sets her punishment to include even those who (sometimes unwittingly) aid in the breaking of vows.  It is this habit that she is best known for, through the punishment on those women taken as lovers by her husband Zeus.  Zeus receives punishment as well though and on one occasion Hera plots to overthrow him, though she fails and is punished by being hung from the heights of Mt. Olympos; a second time she leaves Zeus and returns to her childhood home in Euobea.  She returns to him, falling for a ruse (Zeus’ threat to take a new queen),  just as she fell for one to begin their marriage- rescuing the storm god in the form of a helpless cuckoo bird from heavy winds and rain. 

Hera is often called the ox-eyed goddess (though the name could also be read cow-headed, reminding one of Hat-hor, a Great Goddess of the Egyptians)  and one of her cult titles is Hera Keroessa – the horned goddess and she is a goddess of cattle and of their fertility.  One of her rivals, Io (who was also identified as the cow-horned Egyptian goddess Isis) was turned into a heifer to hide her - unsuccessfully, from Hera’s sight.  Zeus shares many similarities to the Near-Eastern Bull-of-Heaven (even taking this form to carry the Phoenician princess Europa to bull-worshiping Krete) and Hera seems to fill the mirror role of Cow of the Earth, potent symbols of power to a herding society.

Hera’s name does not appear to be of Indo-European origin (as are most of the Olympians) and there are hints in her cult that suggest an antiquity to her that lies with the peoples who occupied Greece before the coming of the Hellenes,  just as there are hints that Zeus’ original consort was the (also Indo-European) Goddess Dione and not Hera.  It is not a far stretch to see the marriage of Zeus and Hera as the marriage of two colliding cultures and the supplanting of the indigenous; and without resorting to a ‘feminist-revisionist-super-matriarchy’ theory, it is also not hard to see the matrifocal (at least in a religious scene) tendencies of that earlier culture.

Athene is often thought of being born only of Zeus and having no mother, though the myths say otherwise and name her mother Metis; some claim that Hephaistos was born by Hera without a mate in retaliation for this.  But other tales have Hephaistos cracking the skull of Zeus to release the war-goddess, seemingly making Zeus’ ability to give birth by parthogenesis a mimic of Hera’s.  Hephaistos is sometimes called a child of both Zeus and Hera, but more often a son of the goddess alone.  Eileithyia, the goddess of child-birth and Ares as well are sometimes called children of Hera alone.  They are said to have been conceived by Hera eating lettuce (which has a milky white fluid in it’s heart that was equated with seamen)  or by striking the earth with her palm, both, to the ancient Greeks, very sexual metaphors.

Not only was Hera seen to have given birth without a mate, she was also seen as renewing her virginity yearly by bathing in a pool in Euobea.  Hera was born to the role of Queen of Heaven, Zeus is king by conquest.  Without Hera to solidify his claim it could be challenged and she might choose another to take his place- and one thing that all the myths agree upon was Zeus’ constant desire to prevent that very thing.  During the titanomachy, the war between gods and titans, Hera did not participate in the fighting but remained safe with her foster-parents Thetis and Okeanos.  As the source of heavenly sovereignty she could not side with either faction but instead represented what those factions were fighting for.   The yearly renewal of her virginity is the yearly renewal of her ability to choose who she will have as her husband and king. 

Hera is a goddess of all women and of the various stages of their lives, she was named Hera Pais – the girl, Hera Teleia - the woman and Hera KhĂȘra – the widow, but for all this Hera is not celebrated as a mother even though she bore children, two of whom are counted among the council of the Olympians.  When she saw the malformed Hephaistos that she had given birth to she threw him from the heights of heaven in disgust, or perhaps in fear.  His return brought her great ridicule, she was stuck fast to a golden throne the smith-god made for her, and tipped upside down so her skirts fell around her face.  It was Dionusos, once of Zeus’ many children terrorized by Hera who eventually had Hephaistos reconcile and free his mother.  

Hera’s focus seems to be away from her own children and towards the Hero’s of Greece.  She aids the hero’s of the Hellene army against Troy- though this could be because of her hatred of Paris as much as any love towards the Greeks.  Iason, who sought the golden fleece was one of her favorites  and she gave aid to the leader of the Argo.  One can not but help to notice the similarities between ‘Hera’ and ‘hero’ and the greatest of Greek heroes has a very strong connection to this goddess- Herakles whose very name proclaims her glory.  Perhaps Hera tested Herakles to see his greatness and not to punish him for his birth, testing him, and other heroes’ worthiness of entering Olympos after death and of receiving eternal life- as she gave to Herakles along with her own daughter Hebe, goddess of youth to be his wife. 

Hera was a goddess of glory for women as well as for men.  The Heraean games were held every four years in Olympia and were the oldest of the panhellenic games, even older than the Olympics.  Women and young girls would participate in athletics and victors would be  crowed with olive leaves.

I worship Hera by acknowledging great deeds that I see.  Today’s heroes are still slayers of monsters, though these monsters are disease, environmental disregard and big corporations. And I honor her by trying to stand up for my own ethics and ideals- my definition of what makes a hero in today’s society. 

No comments:

Post a Comment