Before Her reign was overthrown as the Achaean tribes took over Greece Hera (Roman Juno) was the supreme mother goddess, a benevolent cow-eyed triple goddess of the earth and the sky, the creator of the Milky Way, which she painted in the heavens with the milk from her breasts. “As goddess of birth and death, of spring and autumn, Hera held the emblems, respectively, of a cuckoo and a pomegranate,” writes Patricia Monaghan. The chief god of her conquerors was Zeus. Naturally, his worshippers saw Hera’s widespread cult as a threat. An arranged (forced) marriage between the two deities seemed like an only solution. For Demetra George and many other contemporary devotees of the Goddess, Hera is “the image of the turbulent nation princess coerced, but never really subdued, by an alien conqueror. “ She may have been subdued, her old ways supplanted by the new patriarchal order, but she never lost an ounce of her glory, even though a lot of male authored myths made her into a jealousy-stricken, frustrated and manipualtive wife. Still, her chief emblem – the peacock – will always remind us of her unflinching haughtiness, pride and glory (for more on the peacock symbolism check out my post on the All-Seeing Eye symbolism).
I believe something else also happened: Hera had fallen in love with Zeus. She had imagined theirs would be a sacred marriage that would seal their alchemical union. She put a lot of effort into purifing herself before her wedding and into adorning the bridal chamber, where the marriage hearse will be kept ablaze. Hera’s cult with Greece was connected with sacred sexuality:
“Hera is goddess of the bed—she even worries if old Oceanus and Tethys, who brought her up as a girl, are depriving themselves of it. For her, the veil, the first veil, is the pastós, the nuptial curtain that surrounds the thálamos (the most private part of a house). In Paestum, in Samos there is still evidence that the bed was a central devotional object of the cult. And when Hera makes love to Zeus on top of Mount Gargaron, the earth sprouts a carpet of flowers for the occasion. Thick and soft, it lifted them up off the ground. The pseudo-bed is then surrounded by a golden cloud, to substitute for the pastós. The bed, for Hera, was the primordial place par excellence, the playpen of erotic devotion. In her most majestic shrine, the Heraion in Argos, the worshiper could see, placed on a votive table, an image of Hera’s mouth closing amorously around Zeus’s erect phallus. No other goddess, not even Aphrodite, had allowed an image like that in her shrine.“
Gavin Hamilton, “Juno and Jupiter“
By letting herself be bound to Zeus, however, she gave a large portion of her power away. Almost nothing worked as she had imagined. All she wanted was a committed partnership based on equality and a balance of power. All she got were power struggles, constant conflicts, disappointments, and an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness and a resulting rage, most definitely too high a price to pay for her high position in the pantheon and in the Greek and Roman establishment. For Demetra George, this tormented goddess archetype puts her wings over all those who feel oppressed and disempowered in relationships: “ abused women and children, victims of seduction, rape and incest, minorities and the disabled.” She carries a promise of renewal for all the downtrodden, anguished souls, for all the victims of inequality. She periodically retreated into solitude to nurse her wounds, to cleanse and sublimate her rage in a sacred spring. These were very fruitful periods for her:
“After spending a year in solitary retreat, Hera bore the Typhaon of Delphi, a creature with a hundred burning snake heads, who later became a fearsome enemy of Zeus. Later, Hera conceived Ares, god of war and strife, when she touched the fertility-inducing May blossom administered to her by the goddess Flora. … Finally, Hera bore Hephaestus, skilled artisan and smith god.”
Luis Lopez Y Piquer, “The Goddess Juno in the House of Dreams“
As much as she symbolizes the principle of relatedness, she also reminds us of a vital need to be just by ourselves, to renew our individual soul’s connection with heaven and earth, to figure out things on our own in order to renew the reservoir of our inner strength. The triplicity of her parthenogenetic offspring is a testimony to breathtaking feminine power: a force that today’s world is only learning to reckon with.
Hera was reborn as Juno in the Roman pantheon. An Orphic Hymn praising her unveils her deeper, spiritual significance:
” O Royal Juno of majestic mien,
Aerial-form’d, divine, Jove’s blessed queen,
Thron’d in the bosom of cærulean air,
The race of mortals is thy constant care.
The cooling gales thy pow’r alone inspires,
Which nourish life, which ev’ry life desires.
Mother of clouds and winds, from thee alone
Producing all things, mortal life is known:
All natures share thy temp’rament divine,
And universal sway alone is thine.
With founding blasts of wind, the swelling sea
And rolling rivers roar, when shook by thee.
Come, blessed Goddess, fam’d almighty queen,
With aspect kind, rejoicing and serene.”
Gustave Moreau, “The Peacock Complaining to Juno”
While reading this hymn a reflection came upon me. Both Hera and Zeus were sky gods, residing up in the clouds in their magic kingdom of eternal delights. When they were joined in matrimony both must have felt suddenly constrained and narrowly defined by the new role and responsibility of being a spouse. Hera chose steadfast commitment and poured her life and soul to perfect this union while Zeus never resigned from any of his freedoms. The hymn takes us deeper into the mystery of Juno, who was so much more than the faithful wife, though. According to Proclus, a Greek Neoplatonic philosopher, who was initiated into mystery cults derived from Chaldean Oracles, the Orphic theologians called her “the vivific goddess” and “the source of the soul’s procreation.” In Roman vocabulary, the juno was the female form of the genius – a protective guardian spirit of a person, who bestowed success and intellectual powers on those who showed him or her their devotion. Juno seems to embody our fertile spiritual core bound to earth and heaven. She can guide us to our inner shining brilliance and she can help us bring out our inner spiritual gifts for the whole world to see. Scholars connect the etymology of her name with youthfulness and vitality (Latin ‘iuvenis’ for youth), which is related to a Greek word ‘aion’ signifying a fertile time. It seems that her name suggests élan vital, the vital force and energy, which lies at the root of soul making.
Tiffany Dang, “Hera”
It seems that similarly to the Greek oldest myths, also Roman myth saw Juno as a universal, all-encompassing deity. She channeled the universal Indo-European mother goddess that was there at the beginning of time. Goddess specialization was a much later invention. Barbara G. Walker says that Juno was derived from “Sabine-Etruscan Uni, the Three-in-One deity cognate with ‘yoni’ and ‘Uni-verse.’” Her Roman emanations were countless: Juno Fortuna (Goddess of Fate), Juno Sospita (the Preserver), Juno Regina (Queen of Heaven), Juno Lucina ( Goddess of Celestial Light), Juno Moneta (the Advisor and Admonisher), Juno Martialis (the virgin mother of Mars), Juno Caprotina (goddess of erotic love), Juno Populonia (Mother of the People), to name just a few. Apart from the peacock, Juno had another sacred symbol associated with her – the lily or lotus, “universal yonic emblem,” says Barbara G. Walker:
“With her sacred lily, Juno conceived the god Mars without any assistance from her consort, Jupiter; thus she became the Blessed Virgin Juno. The three-lobed lily that used to represent her parthenogenetic power was inherited by the virgin Mary, who still retains it.”
I have always felt close to Juno, having been born in June, her sacred month, and also having the asteroid Juno in conjunction with my Sun. In Rome, she was revered not only in June but also on every first day of the lunar month. As a primordial goddess she was associated with the beginnings and with the god Janus, a two-faced god of transitions. As our culture is currently in the throes of transformation, I hope Juno will empower us and guide us into a more vibrant and life-affirming future.
Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony
Demetra George and Douglas Bloch, Asteroid Goddesses
Patricia Monaghan, Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines, volume II
Barbara G. Walker, Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets