Who was Hera?
Hera was the Greek goddess of women, marriage, family and childbirth as well as a Patroness of Kings, Empires, Royal Dynasties and Politics. One of the Twelve Olympians Hera was the sister-wife of the God Zeus, thus ruling over Mount Olympus as Queen of the Gods. Hera was the daughter of the God Cronus and Goddess Rhea. As well as Zeus her other siblings were Poseidon, Hades, Demeter and Hestia. Together with Zeus she became a parent to the Underworld Goddess Angelos, God of War Ares, Goddess of Childbirth Eileithyia, war Goddess Enyo, Goddess of Discord Eris, Goddess of Youth Hebe, God of Fire Hephaestus and of unconfirmed fatherhood was mother to the serpent-monster Typhon in revenge for Zeus’s fathering of Athena.
Symbols commonly associated with Hera include her sacred animals the cow, the lion, the cuckoo and the peacock, peacocks often being depicted pulling a chariot in which Hera was stood. When portrayed in art Hera is usually depicted on a throne, in a state of majesty and solemnity. She sometimes carries a lotus staff and is usually wearing a high cylindrical crown (worn by various Great Goddesses). Hera can often be seen holding pomegranate in one of her hands. The pomegranate has been seen throughout history as an emblem of fertility, fertile blood, death and can also be substituted for the central capsule of the opium poppy (Hera being commonly associated with the poppy). Epithets attached to Hera have included ‘Protector of Men’, ‘Queen’, ‘She of the Heights’, ‘Cow-Eyed’, ‘Child’ and ‘White-Armed’.
Hera acted in a matronly, maternal role and as patroness of married women, thus presiding over weddings. As a result of Zeus’s numerous illegitimate children and lovers she became known for her jealous and vengeful nature, acting as she did in search of vengeance against those lovers, their children and any other mortals who Hera felt had wronged her.
Occupations associated with Hera include homemaker, counselling, childcare, midwifery, nursing and teaching.
Similar deities to Hera which are found in other cultures include the Roman Goddess Juno, Etruscan Goddess Uni, Norse Goddess Frigga and the Egyptian Goddess Isis.
The Hera Archetype
The Hera archetype has perhaps historically been seen as the most idealised form of womanhood, being as she is primarily a caregiver but combining this with qualities of strength, courage, determination, protectiveness and authority.
In the role as caregiver the archetypal Hera may feel incomplete without a life partner and family, representing the capacity to be loyal, caring and committed even through life’s most difficult challenges. For this archetype being single or childless can be deeply painful and, once they have accomplished these goals, the Hera archetype will not tolerate anything which distracts her from her main motivation in life. They will act with devotion and care toward their husband and family, even sometimes to their own cost in order to protect those they love or to take revenge against any who threaten the family unit.
In their role as a caregiver the archetypal Hera acts selflessly, with a passion and commitment to those in life whom they value. This can lead them to display darker traits, such as anger, rage and jealousy when they feel their unit threatened, or manipulation and a tendency towards falsehood should they feel that employing such tactics will help keep those whom they value close to them. They are inclined towards guilt tripping those around them when they feel necessary, using their care as a form of weapon to ensure that they do not lose those they care for. Despite their caring tendencies they can in fact themselves be very needy, relying heavily on others for companionship and to give them a sense of their own worth.
A contemporary example of the Hera archetype was Nancy Reagan, the First Lady and wife of American President Ronald Reagan. Despite modern trends encouraging women away from acting in the Hera mould, Nancy was a committed and unashamed Hera who vocally defended her role as a devoted wife to her husband, seeing that as her central function in life and describing her husband as her reason for being happy.
Another contemporary archetypal example might be seen in the infamous US killer Betty Broderick, who was convicted of killing her ex-husband Daniel T. Broderick III and his second wife, Linda (Kolkena) Broderick. Broderick recalled that she was trained to act as a housewife since the day she was born, devoting herself to caring for Daniel and their children, including supporting him whilst he completed both medical and law degrees. After having completed his studies and established his career, as well as having fathered three children with Betty, Daniel left Betty for the much younger and more attractive Linda. Daniel then gained custody of the couple’s three children. The murders appear to have come about from Betty’s psychological inability to cope with the loss of her Hera-type functions in life as wife and mother, and from her determination to seek vengeance against the instigators of her loss in the form of Daniel and Linda.
Characteristics of the Hera archetype
‘The marriage of Zeus and Hera can hardly be reframed into a “happy one” and yet Hera is the Goddess of marriage. Hera and Zeus could be described as quarrelsome predecessors of the Holy Family. For the Greeks they symbolized marriage par excellence.’
– Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig
“O royal Hera, of majestic mien, aerial-formed, divine, Zeus’ blessed queen, throned in the bosom of cerulean air, the race of mortals is thy constant care. The cooling gales they power alone inspires, which nourish life, which every life desires. Mother of showers and winds, from thee alone, producing all things, mortal life is known: all natures share thy temperament divine, and universal sway alone is thine, with sounding blasts of wind, the swelling sea and rolling rivers roar when shook by thee. Come, blessed Goddess, famed almighty queen, with aspect kind, rejoicing and serene.”
– Orphic Hymn 16 to Hera (Greek hymns C3rd B.C. to 2nd A.D.)
‘For me Greece is Maria Farantouri. This is how I imagined Goddess Hera to be: strong, pure and vigilant. I have never encountered any other artist able to give me such a strong sense of the divine.’
– Francois Mitterrand