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Queen of Olympians
HERA (Roman name Juno) was the goddess of marriage. Hera was the wife of Zeus and Queen of the Olympians.
Hera hated the great hero Heracles since he was the son of her husband Zeus and a mortal woman. When he was still an infant, she sent snakes to attack him in his crib. Later she stirred up the Amazons against him when he was on one of his quests.
On the other hand, Hera aided the hero Jason, who would never have retrieved the Golden Fleece without her sponsorship.
In Greek mythology, Hera was the reigning female goddess of Olympus because she was Zeus's wife. But her worship is actually far older than that of her husband. It goes back to a time when the creative force we call "God" was conceived of as a woman. The Goddess took many forms, among them that of a bird.
Hera was worshipped throughout Greece, and the oldest and most important temples were consecrated to her. Her subjugation to Zeus and depiction as a jealous shrew are mythological reflections of one of the most profound changes ever in human spirituality.
Tens of thousands of years ago, as the evidence of cave art and artifacts makes clear, humanity was focused on the female body, either pregnant or fit to bear children. Childbirth was the closest humans came to the great power that caused the earth to bring forth new life in the spring. To the extent that these distant ancestors of ours were evolved enough to think of worshipping this power, we may safely conclude that they thought of it as female.
Thousands of years later (and some five to nine thousand years before our own time), the European descendants of these people lived in large villages, with specialized crafts and religious institutions. It is clear from the artifacts they left behind that they worshipped a power (or a group of powers) that came in many forms-a bird, a snake, perhaps the earth itself. And this great power was female. For the human female has the ability to procreate-to bring forth new life.
It is said that it was only when humanity discovered man's role in procreation that male gods began to be worshipped. There is no reason to doubt, though, that male gods were worshipped before the mystery of birth was fully known. In all probability the greatest powers were thought of as female but there were male deities as well. And it is clear that even after procreation was properly understood, the more peaceful Europeans-perhaps down to the "Minoans" of Crete-continued to worship the Great Mother.
And there were many peaceful Europeans. Many of the largest villages of that distant era were unfortified. The culture known as "Old European" did not fear aggression from its neighbors. But then things changed and a great period of violence began. Invaders swept into Europe from the vast central plains of Asia.
Little is known, but the peaceful settlements of Old Europe were no match for them. In some places their new culture became supreme, in others there was merger. Hardier mountain folk resisted, though many were displaced from their strongholds, moved on and displaced others in a domino effect. The Dorian invasion of Mycenaean Greece can be seen as a result of this chain reaction.
The old order seems to have held out longest on Crete where, protected by the Aegean Sea from invasion by land, the high Minoan civilization survived until almost three thousand years ago. Abruptly, then, from the perspective of human existence, the gender of the greatest power changed from female to male. And many of the stories that form the basis of Greek mythology were first told in their present form not long after the shift.
Zeus's many adulterous affairs may derive from ceremonies in which the new sky god "married" various local embodiments of the Great Goddess. That there was some insecurity on the part of the supplanter god and his worshippers is seen in the mythological birth of Athena from Zeus's head-as if to say that the sky god could do anything any Great Goddess could do.
This Goddess continued to be worshipped in some form down into historical times. Her worship is sometimes dismissed as a "fertility cult", largely because religious practices degenerated under new influences. But we may look for traces in the myths of the old order, in which Athena, whose name is pre-Greek, was the Goddess herself.
And this bird goddess became the chief deity of war. Her earlier guise may be glimpsed in Athena's symbol, the owl, which derives from the preceding thousands of years of sacred bird imagery.
Her favourite city is Argos.
More About Hera
Hera, the Greek goddess called the Queen of Heaven, was a powerful queen in her own right, long before her marriage to Zeus, the mighty king of the Olympian gods. The goddess Hera ruled over the heavens and the earth, responsible for every aspect of existence, including the seasons and the weather.
Honoring her great capacity to nurture the world, her very name translates as the "Great Lady". Our word galaxy comes from the Greek word gala meaning "mother's milk" . . . legend has it that the Milky Way was formed from the milk spurting from the breasts of the Greek goddess Hera, Queen of Heaven. Where drops fell to earth, fields of lilies sprung forth.
She was also worshipped as the Roman goddess Juno, and the month of June (which is the most popular month for weddings) is named in her honor.
It is partly on account of Hera's great beauty, and particularly her beautiful, large eyes, that she is linked to her sacred animal, the cow, and also the peacock with its iridescent feathers having "eyes". The cow symbolizes the goddess Hera's nurturing watchfulness over her subjects, while the peacock symbolizes her luxury, beauty, and immortality.
In ancient times Hera was revered as being the only one the Greek goddesses who accompanied a woman through every step of her life.
The goddess Hera blessed and protected a woman's marriage, bringing her fertility, protecting her children, and helping her find financial security. Hera was, in short, a complete woman, overseeing both private and public affairs.
But it was Hera's uncommon beauty that attracted the attention of her future husband, the lusty Zeus, who tricked Hera into taking him to her breast by changing himself into a small, frightened and wounded bird that elicited her pity.
Once cradled in Hera's bosom, Zeus changed back into his manly form and tried to take her . . . but she resisted his advances, putting him off until he promised to marry her. The delay only increased his desire for Hera and, once married, they had the longest honeymoon on record, lasting over 300 years!
Unfortunately, the goddess Hera's life was not to remain so enviable. Once the honeymoon was over, Zeus reverted to his earlier "playboy" lifestyle, married or not, compulsively seducing or raping whichever of the Greek goddesses or mortal women caught his wandering eye.
His amorous exploits left the regal goddess Hera feeling betrayed and humiliated on numerous occasions. To make matters even worse, Zeus often showed more favor towards the offspring of his illicit liaisons than he did to the children Hera bore him.
In Greek mythology Hera, although wounded, remained faithful and steadfast in her loyalty to Zeus, electing instead to vent her fury on "the other women" rather than Zeus himself even though it was usually Zeus who had deceived, seduced or raped the innocent women.
This wasn't always Hera's reaction, however. On one occasion she decided to give Zeus a "taste of his own medicine" by conceiving and delivering a child by herself, proving that she really didn't need him anyway.
It didn't work out quite as she'd hoped. She gave birth, as the sole parent, to Hephaestus (God of the Forge) who was born with a deformity that made him lame. Zeus was not impressed, and Hera rejected her son, sending him away from Mount Olympus to grow up among the mortals.
At other times, in reaction to his continuing infidelities, the goddess Hera simply withdrew from Zeus and the other Olympian gods and goddesses and wandered around the earth, often in darkness, always eventually ending up back at the home where she'd spend her happy youth.
In spite of how he had mistreated her, Zeus did love Hera and, more than that, felt as if part of himself was missing when she was not there for him.
Once, panicked that Hera didn't seem to be in any hurry to return this time, he invited her to a "mock" marriage ceremony that he'd arranged to a princess near her home.
She couldn't help but be amused to discover him making his vows, not to a princess, but a statue! Hera's laughter broke the ice, and she forgave him and returned to Mount Olympus to resume her role as wife and queen.
It is unfortunate that it is not the goddess Hera's nurturing or her steadfastness in the face of adversity that are remembered today, but mostly the stories of her jealousy and vindictiveness.
Some historians argue that the goddess Hera was unjustly portrayed in the famous stories of Homer, probably because he was himself victimized by a mean and shrewish wife.
More than any of the other Greek goddesses, the goddess Hera reminds us that there is both light and dark within each of us and that joy and pain are inextricably linked in life. The Greek goddess Hera represents the fullness of life and affirms that we can use our own wisdom in the pursuit of any goal we choose.
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