Hera: Goddess and Archetype of Marriage and Commitments
Put A Ring on It
Hera, Greek Goddess of Marriage, Commitment Maker, and Wife
The regal and beautiful Hera was a consort to Zeus, the Supreme God of the Olympians who ruled all over the Earth. Her name is thought to mean Great Lady, or Heroine. She was called “Cow-eyed”, complimenting her lovely and watchful eyes. The peacock was another symbol for her because its iridescent tail feather had an “eye”, another symbol of Hera’s watchfulness. It was believed that the Milky Way was formed by the mother’s milk that sprayed from Hera’s breasts. Any drops that fell to the ground became lilies, a symbol of the self fertilizing power of the female body. Hera’s symbols show that she was a powerful Goddess who was worshiped long before Zeus. In Greek mythology, Hera was solemnly revered in rituals as the powerful Goddess of Marriage.
Hera, Greek Goddess of Commitment
Hera’s beauty greatly attracted Zeus, and Hera wanted so much to be married that this was her only goal in life. Zeus had other consorts before Hera, and although he stayed faithful to her for three hundred years, he returned to his former promiscuous ways, infuriating Hera and causing her to be extremely jealous of the other women in his life. He was often unfaithful, and instead of being angry at Zeus, Hera was vindictive and wrathful to his other women and offspring, often taking out her rage on them. Hera was humiliated over and over again, as marriage was sacred to her and she was extremely hurt by this dishonor.
But her anger was very destructive. Hera let loose a dragon to destroy the whole city of Zeus’s consort Aegina. When Dionysus was born, she drove his foster parents mad. When Zeus cheated on Hera with Callisto, Hera changed Callisto into a bear to try to trick her son into killing her. But Zeus placed the mother and son in the sky as the constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.
Hera was insulted when Zeus gave birth to Athena himself, so decided to give birth to a son without him. She conceived Hephaestus, God of the Forge, but he was born with a clubfoot, so was not perfect like Athena. Zeus did not even need a wife to have a child. Normally Hera reacted to news of Zeus’s infidelities with rage, but at times she withdrew. Sometimes she wandered to the ends of the Earth, wrapping herself in the deep darkness of depression.
The archetype of Hera is seen in women who yearn so much to be married that they feel incomplete without a partner. Her grief at being unmarried is as deep and hurtful as the mourning of women who try many times to have a child and are unable to do so. When a “Hera” woman becomes part of a committed relationship, she is happy, but only if it leads to marriage.
She needs the respect, prestige and honor that marriage promises her, and wants to be somebody’s Mrs. This is not a woman who will just live with a man and “play house.” She wants a ring on her finger, a wedding date set, a bridal shower, and a nice honeymoon. She wants the big, fancy church wedding, not a quick ceremony in Las Vegas. This is a woman who feels like a Goddess on her wedding day, and often refers to it as the best day of her life.
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Marriage in the US During the 1950s
This is a concept that was popular in the US during the 1950’s. If a woman was unmarried by the age of twenty one, she was already getting uncomfortably close to becoming an “Old Maid.” At that time, many women got married as soon as they graduated from high school, or even before if they became pregnant. Even if she had a job or attended college, a “Hera” woman did not really care about her studies or career, she was mostly searching for a husband. And once she found him, her whole world revolved around him, even more so than the children if they had any.
Two of three meanings of marriage are fulfillment of an inner need to be someone’s mate, and to be recognized by society as part of a couple. But some people love so deeply and spiritually, some marriages have a “mystical” level, a striving for wholeness to make the marriage feel sacred. If a Hera archetype marries and does not find that “soul” connection with her mate, she will honor the marriage, but will not leave it. She will decide it’s better to be in an unhappy marriage than to be alone. Sadly, such a woman feels worthless unless she is somebody’s wife.
Hera is the radiant bride walking down the aisle to her husband on the wedding day. She is joyful and fulfilled. She is happy making the man the center of her life. She was the friend who made plans with her girlfriends before marriage, but dropped them if a man asked her on a date. Once she gets married, she will stop going out with her friends, or put them on “hold” if her husband has any plans.
Little “Heras” are the ones who play house with a boy when aged four or five and say, “You’ll be the Daddy and go to work, I’ll be the Mommy.” If a young Hera grows up in a home with parents who were unhappily married, she still has an idealized version of what marriage should be in her mind. As she gets older, she seeks to be coupled with a solid, competent young man with good career prospects. She has no time for starving artists, sensitive poets or “professional students”. She really needs the emotional security a relationship provides for her.
A Hera woman does not place much value on friendships with other women, and may not even have a best friend. She prefers doing everything with her husband, so she can watch his every move. She is very insecure and needs constant reassurance she is loved, even if she is smothering the man to death. She has a good social life when she and the husband go out as a couple. But if one couple goes through a death or divorce, having an available woman as part of her social group is uncomfortable for her, especially if her husband shows the woman any attention.
Hera, Greek Goddess of Marriage
A Hera woman is not very good at sizing people up. She may find herself married to an emotionally immature man, because she takes people at face value in her hurry to get married. Once she finds he is cheating on her, instead of being angry, she will avoid discussing their problems, so she is often married to a philanderer. Her anger will be directed at the “other woman” instead of with her husband. She suffers psychological pain, but has a gap between her expectations of what marriage should be, and what her marriage really is. She will try to compensate for this by always being in a flurry of social activities, so they have the image of the perfect couple. Hera is the least likely person to seek a divorce. Even if her husband wants to leave her, she will keep his name and likely find reasons to keep calling him about trivial matters, even if he has remarried.
A Hera woman usually has children because this is part of the role of being a wife. She will not have much maternal instinct however, unless she has some of the Goddess Demeter in her. She is not overly fond of sex either, she expects the man to always take the lead, but will try to take this in stride as part of the “job description” and hopefully has some Goddess Aphrodite in her as well. Hera will sacrifice what is in her children’s best interests if it conflicts with those of the husband. Many Hera women had critical or difficult fathers who never had time for them. If they get the courage to discuss this when they are older, their mothers often berate them for “bothering” their fathers. So a Hera woman often has a Hera mother.
Her middle years are happy ones if she is in a stable marriage to a man who accomplishes some measure of success. An unmarried, divorced, or widowed Hera is miserable. Midlife is a time when many marriages come under stress, because if another woman does come into the picture, Hera will make everyone unhappy with her possessiveness, jealousy and unwillingness to let go.
Hera and Zeus
Was Hera's Personality Misinterpreted?
But since this writing the negative image of Hera stayed in my mind, and I did more research on the topic. In other versions of the Hera mythology, she needed no consort at all. But Patriarchal Gods brought Zeus to her land. Because Hera's religion was too strong to destroy, a marriage was made between the two divinities, Zeus and Hera. This forced joining of a pre-Hellenic Goddess of women with the thunderbolt wielding Zeus took place, and with it, the classical Hera that we often hear about.
In this tale, Hera is still jealous, petulant, and not a very attractive figure, but she never wanted to marry Zeus anyway! It was a marriage of convenience to quell the politics of a turbulent time. At that time in his life, Zeus wasn't looking for a wife either. He was always about raping any goddess he wanted. But finally, since Hera was in this marriage, she rebelled against Zeus and his cheating ways, and went after his other lovers. She sided against him in the Trojan War. Eventually, little remained of the three fold goddess of dignified womanhood except Hera's periodic retreats into solitude.
The older Hera had passed through the three life stages: youth, prime and age. She was first the Maiden Hebe or Parthenia, virginal not because she avoided sex, but because she had no responsibility for children. She was also called Antheia, or flowering one, because she was youthful, like the budding Earth. Next, she appeared as a mature woman, Nymphenomene, or "seeking a mate," the Mother in the prime of life. Finally Hera showed herself as Theira, or the Crone, the woman who has passed through and beyond maternity and lives to be herself again.
So in these stages, Hera is the epitome of a woman's strength and power. She was shown as spiteful, but she was generous and self assured. Ancient Hera was so loved, that even though her image was cast in such a negative way, she was still worshipped and revered. Symbolizing the inner essence of feminine development, Hera was a Goddess who never deserved the indignitites that were heaped upon her. Had she not been as powerful as she was, she would have simply been raped by Zeus and discarded, like his other women. So although Hera was demonized, her good qualities still lived on.
The Winter is the time when she separates with Zeus, either for a time, or because of his death, and she is Hera the Widow, and she goes into hiding. The chance to complete a new cycle is inherent in Hera’s mythology. A Hera woman in a bad marriage can “widow” herself by leaving an empty or abusive marriage. She can start anew in a different marriage and choose more wisely this time around. In a good marriage, her drive to be a wife can be fulfilled in a positive way.
This cycle can also be an inner experience if Hera lets go of the need to be married or faces the the fact that she does not need to see the role of wife as the only way to be fulfilled. A widowed grandmother on the threshold of a new phase after menopause can psychologically be the Maiden once more and find happiness. Or the Maiden attitude can aid Hera into finding new aspects and strengths that she never explored.
Hera Needs Other Reasons for Living Besides Marriage
Still, a widowed Hera may become chronically depressed unless she has some other Goddess archetypes in her. She has pushed away all her friends and is most likely not close with her children. The best case scenario is that she happily lives out her golden years with the same man. When a woman identifies herself with Hera, she assumes her life will be transformed by marriage, that her “Zeus” will fulfill her every need.
If this does not happen, she will pretend on the outside that she is in a happy marriage. A woman with these tendencies can really be her own oppressor. She will turn into a nagging, wounded, dissatisfied shrew. The Goddess Hera suffered more than any other Goddess, but she persecuted others with much cruelty. But she will go out of her way to make sure access to good looking women with nice personalities are not in the social group she and her husband socialize in. And who can blame her?
Recognizing Hera’s traits and doing your best to avoid them are the first step to moving beyond her. It is best not to jump into marriage too quickly, to take time to get to know the partner well. Do not automatically say “yes” to any marriage proposal. Think about it. Taking care of a husband and children is one thing, but a woman must find other interests outside of the home. A Hera woman is too dependent on her husband and must learn to develop problem solving skills of her own. She can use her rage about her failed marriage to create artwork, sculpture, or write poetry. It would be wise to return to school, to actually learn this time around, and either find a job or get hobbies, do some volunteer work. To let go of her “Hera” tendencies, she has to let go of her “Zeus.” She has to learn that another person is never responsible for your own happiness. She has to find it within herself. It was her fault she stayed faithful to a faithless man and ignored everyone in her life to give him all her time and attention. She needs to try new experiences, to grow and change, to be the once revered and strong woman she once was perceived to be by her people.
Bolen, Jean Shinoda 1984 Goddesses in Everywoman Publisher Harper Collins New York Chapter 8 Hera: Goddess of Marriage, Commitment Maker and Wife pgs. 39-167
Monaghan, Patricia 2011 The Goddess Path Publisher Llewellyn Publishing New York Images of the Goddess, Using Goddess Images and Narratives pgs. 23-35
© 2011 Jean Bakula