Sunday, May 4, 2008

On the nature of Hera

OK, so Hera is a goddess. She, that eternal spirit we call Hera, is a deity. Her divine nature is not something you or I could ever truly comprehend in its totality. But what about the nature of the goddess we worship as Hera is understandable. How much of herself has she allowed us to see in manifestation and epiphany.

For starters, Hera is seen in the mythos of the Hellenized world in several forms. As daughter of Kronos and Rhea, as a young goddess in love, as a wife, queen, and enraged and vengeful woman. These manifestations of our Queen are as much influenced by the way the ancients saw themselves, and women, as it is a reflection of the nature of the goddess revealed to them through centuries and even millennia of worship and contemplation.

In modern times we tend to look at the various forms the goddess takes in the mythos as aspects of her. We tend to see them as representations of a sublime nature that is interpretive. The youthful Hera is seen as virgin, and thus pure, the wife as dutiful, and thus devout, and the queenly avenger of wrongs as powerful, if frightening in her intensity. She can be seen, by modern neo-pgan parlance, as a virgin, mother, crone archetype, but one with a variation that makes her a little different from the more often invoked Hekate or Artemis.

I bring this up because we do not live in a world unto ourselves, and while I tend to think of our Hellenic religion as being fairly self contained, it is seldom if ever that, and the various ways in which our gods are seen by people outside our traditions can force us to take closer looks at our own ways of seeing them.

So, I am going to try to explain how I see the nature of Hera, and likely fail, as the concepts in my head are so often beyond my own ability to convey them that it makes me a bit angry.

First, a goddess or god is not a piece of statuary. Not a super-human being. Not a superhero or just stronger than us. A deity is an eternal being, one of several, that manifests in our world in a vast variety of forms. When you think of a God, think of a powerful person in your community. You know them from their speeches, their public appearances, and what others have to say about them, but do you really know that person?

Second, the manifestations of the Gods are open to interpretation. Imagine that same powerful person in your community and then picture that you have only allowed the words of others to form your opinion of them. Your view of him or her is likely skewed and your appreciation of their nature is misinformed and therefore only partly correct.

Third, the Gods are not interested in our petty quibbles. They are not there to give us lottery numbers or luck or even heal us from our ills, but they do, by their presence in the world and through our willingness to reach out to them, inspire us to help ourselves. We gather strength from our willingness to touch them, to meditate on them, and to let them in to our hearts. This desire and ability to reach out to powers beyond ourselves for help, even if it is just emotional support, is part of how we have always helped ourselves.

Fourth, the hierarchy of the Gods is one that is both reflective of our own society and nature (we are a tribal kind of species) and reflective of some kind of divine order that is both hierarchical and egalitarian at the same time. I think the idea that Zeus and Hera are King and Queen of Olympus is a reflection of a set of positions in the divine realm that is agreed upon, not taken by force. Zeus and Hera are "King and Queen of Heaven" because the divine realm requires them to be, because they are chosen to be by the totality of that realm, not strictly because of their nature. In other words, Zeus is King because he is worthy of that kingship, not because he is supposed to be king.

Fifth, Hera, as Queen of Heaven, is perhaps the most powerful force in human affairs. Humanity requires the kind of influence she offers. Requires the kind of loyalty to oaths and respect that Hera demands between the genders. It is a sad thing that man has, for so long, denied this and that only now do we see strides to attain the kind of equality of power and will that the Queen of Heaven has called on us to bring to the fore.

So, my interpretation of Hera is that as a force in human affairs, she has long demanded that the wives of the world stand up and take their rightful place as the equals of their husbands, not their property, and that man has long demeaned and denied this in the myths they told of her.

To be continued...

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