Hera’s real power was very different from the picture we have of her from Homer and other male writers. For one thing, Hera’s temples were some of the earliest built in Greece, dating back to 800BCE. The greatest and earliest enclosed, free-standing temple to Hera was the Heraion of Samos, while on the Greek mainland Hera was worshipped as Argive Hera at her sanctuary that stood between the city-states of Argos and Mycenae. At Hera’s temple at Olympia, Hera's seated statue was older than the warrior figure of Zeus that accompanied it. Hera was the Great Goddess before Zeus and his Olympians arrived on the scene.
These aspects of a woman’s life would certainly be the values around which a matriarchal society that honored the feminine would evolve. Unfortunately, patriarchy would not let Hera retain her power as the leader of the community or the marriage, giving her lip service as Queen of the Gods, but making Zeus the real power.
Relationships and partnerships are all sourced in Hera’s archetypal energy. And when these energies are out of balance, bad things happen. This has been the source of most of our marital issues—the domination of the masculine and subjugation of the feminine—the imbalance of power between men and women. We are discovering that in a matriarchal society, women and men were seen as equals. Women did not dominate men in the same way that patriarchy encourages men to dominate and violate women.
In almost every story about Hera, we see a goddess jealous of Zeus’ lovers and children, determined to destroy both lover and mother. We hear that Hera curses the pregnant Leto so that she can’t give birth on the mainland or any island, and prevents the midwife coming to her to stop the births of Artemis and Apollo. We hear how she tricks Zeus’ lover Semele into demanding to see Zeus in all his godly glory, ending her life although Zeus saves her son Dionysus. Hera supposedly turned another lover, Lamia, Queen of Libya, into a monster and murdered their children.
And yet, Hera is the goddess not only of marriage but also of childbirth and family. It seems to me that there’s some double-speak going on here. The very magic of Hera is withheld from the women Zeus desires and the children they conceive? That is not the way of the Great Mother. That is the way of patriarchy.
Perhaps these stories are a reflection of the fact that since Hera was a great goddess of the matriarchal society in Greece before the Aryan’s gods were forced upon her, her jealousy and hatred was directed at the patriarchal form of marriage—including ownership of the children—these Aryans brought with them. Perhaps Hera’s jealousy was really rage at what this patriarchal culture was doing to her sister priestesses, goddesses and women.
Perhaps Hera’s continuing rage is her unwillingness to give in to this unbalanced form of relationship. If so, she’s my HERA!
Hera was the Goddess of the Moon, revered as the Virgin, her daughter/self Hebe, as the Mother/partner Teleia, and as the Crone Hekate. She was honored by her people with festivals and games similar to those of the Olympics and her mysteries were honored by women, for her true concern was women. Although most of Hera’s stories portray her as the Matron, the queenly figure of power and authority, Hera exemplified the different aspects of partnership as the Maiden, the Wife and the Widow or Divorced One. So we see that Hera is concerned with all aspects of partnership, especially the sacred marriage.
Hera most especially embodied the energy of the Full Moon, and she was called ‘the Perfect One’. As her partner, Zeus was called ‘the Perfector’, the energy that is supposed to bring to perfection the awareness of the Full Moon. The Full Moon brings us awareness of the issues in our lives. When the goddess’ partner does not fulfill his function, there is trouble. The Greek stories of Hera’s jealousy and rage give us a picture of a troubled marriage, which arises from the basic inequality between men and women under patriarchy. And of course, this inequality still persists today.
Partnership entails issues of where the appropriate boundaries are with another person, i.e., how much sharing is appropriate versus holding back. When partners refuse to ‘perfect’ each other, there are always issues of bitterness and jealousy, or projected authority and control onto the other person, and this lack always affects our intimacy needs. Women today are feeling this lack of true intimacy with their partners, which so often leads to divorce. Patriarchy has not helped men to be ‘the Perfector’ of their woman’s needs and insights.
The way to heal this outer inequality is to first heal it within ourselves. The sacred marriage between the Divine Feminine and Masculine, between right-brain feminine consciousness and left-brain masculine consciousness cannot take place if our rational intellect does not listen to and complete/perfect what the feminine imagination brings up to consciousness. We have to make sure that feminine, right-brain consciousness is the foundation while masculine, left-brain consciousness serves to manifest what is needed.
Hera’s partnership gifts to us are diplomacy, tact, cooperation, and mutual trust. When we own our freedom and confidently believe in our own equality, her gifts draw true partners into our lives. In owning ourselves, we can accept another’s truth or opinion without having to control the outcome, and we can honor and support others in their choices and decisions.
Hera teaches us to be our own authority, to own our womanly instincts and to hope for that partner who will perfect us!