Hera is the wife of Zeus. She embodies the power of limitation, the one that sets the limits, encourages vigilance and full awareness
Hera and Zeus – Cabinet des Médailles
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Since the twelve gods can be arranged into couples of opposites, Hera is opposite to Zeus. But one must not forget that what the ordinary mind considers to be irreconcilable opposites, or at best complementary, are at the level of the overmind only a game of Unity which prepares the putting in place of duality in the densest planes. The couples therefore only represent two aspects of the same reality. The most appropriate image is probably that of the rhythm of the seasons, in which the beautiful days of spring and autumn respond to each other, one belonging to the outgoing movement of energy, and the other to its reflux towards the source.
Zeus could not be joined in marriage with any of his other divine lovers because none of them counterbalance this principle of expansion which he represents.
See Family Tree 17
Thus what checks Zeus in his expansion and surpassing of limits is of course Hera, who incarnates the movement of limitation and retraction. Already Cronos, the father of both Zeus and Hera, had through his union with Rhea imposed a principle of limitation of space through pulsation, or of the curving of space into itself. The gold sickle with which he severed the genital organs of his father Ouranos is the image of this curving force, a limitation which allowed the appearance of a world of forces and forms.
Hera therefore carries the symbolism of the power which forces movement to curve until it is reversed, as do Eros and Rhea (Rho), but in a denser plane.
At the level of the world of forms, Hera, who carries in her name the same structuring character Rho (Ρ) as does her mother Rhea, represents a densification of the pulsation which eventually becomes rhythm. Thus appears the rhythmic movement of alternation, the principle of the cycle which is itself the source of limitation (the name Hera is probably at the origin of the word ‘era’ through the Latin aera). It is the principle of cyclical movement which in its turn allows for the stability of forms without which the universe would be in perpetual chaos.
From an evolutionary point of view this stability is not incompatible with the universe in perpetual change at the base of eastern metaphysics. But within this movement, things and beings maintain a more or less identical form till they become old over a time span corresponding to their nature and destiny.
The succession from mother to daughter of Rhea (ΡΗΑ) and Hera (ΗΡΑ) allows one to see how the ancient initiates played with the order of characters to bring nuances to the meanings of concepts expressed by the same consonants, and in this case the same vowels as well. We have seen that when vowels follow each other, one of them can be considered to be a consonant. In this case the character Η (eta) in Rhea plays this role. If we consider the structuring characters ΡΗ of Rhea (ΡΗΑ), we will find that they express the right movement of pulsation Ρ of inhalation and exhalation, of distancing and return, which applies to a creation in perfect equilibrium. In the name Hera (ΗΡΑ), the character H can no longer be considered to be a structuring consonant. This name must therefore be interpreted as the principle of rhythm or the concept of alternation which applies itself to man.
Hera, the eldest daughter of Cronos, expresses the ‘right or exact movement’, and her expression in accordance with the cycles is therefore the first law of functionality of the world of forms (mind, life, and matter) which operates in the functioning of atoms as well as in that of nature and thought.
Of her youth we only know that she was brought up by Oceanos and Thetis, the Titan couple presiding over evolution according to the movement of nature.
Homer writes that she was united with Zeus on Mount Ida, the place of union (Δ), which enveloped the couple in mist to conceal them.
Numerous authors affirm that she was brought up in Euboea, the symbolic place of ‘great incarnation’ (Eu=vast+B). Within the couple, Zeus pulls towards the expansion of consciousness and the heights of Spirit, while Hera pulls in the direction of incarnation.
Others write that she was brought up by the Horae, equanimity, precision and purity.
As a wedding gift Gaia presented her with a tree bearing golden apples, a symbol of the highest Knowledge meant for ‘acquiring discernment’. As it is a gift from Gaia it can be supposed that it refers to Gnosis, the highest Knowledge, which is immediate and direct and originating from the supramental world.
Hera planted it in the Garden of the Hesperides, the garden of the setting sun, i.e. of the origin of consciousness, which is reached by the seeker at the end of his path. It is the end of the twelfth and last labour of Heracles before the beginning of his campaigns (only the eleventh according to certain authors).
If Zeus, the insatiable lover, is the principle of expansion and of dissemination, then Hera can only represent his opposite, the principle of limitation symbolised by a strict fidelity. She was hence often represented as a woman of severe features in early depictions.
In this way the equilibrium and unity of the couple is established, including what appear to be its constraints.
However this equilibrium is evidently not acquired by the seeker before a very advanced stage of the quest, and disputes are therefore frequent within this couple.
Just as Zeus can seem exuberant, although he can at times seem terrifying, so can his wife Hera appear to be an austere, determined and inflexible character. Her interventions mainly consist of persecuting with hatred the lovers of Zeus and their children, and she is said to be jealous, violent and vindictive. But she is nevertheless the wife of the master of Olympus. As such, she is one of the three goddesses who participated in the beauty contest which the Trojan Alexander-Paris was to judge. This event instigated the Trojan War, for the young Trojan shepherd insulted Hera by choosing Aphrodite, the goddess of growing love, as the most beautiful amongst the goddesses. But at the level of the gods no goddess can presume to surpass the beauty of the divine spouse of Zeus, for she is an incarnation of the highest Truth of this plane, and in mythology what is ‘beautiful’ is what is ‘true’. In Homer’s recounting Aphrodite is not born of the mutilation of Ouranos, but is the daughter of Zeus and Dione and represents growing or expanding love. She is therefore inferior in status to Hera, who is the guardian of the right movement which generates Joy. Eros, Rhea and Hera have the same structuring character in their name, and Hera, as paradoxical as it may seem, is therefore the continuation of Eros, divine Joy, while Aphrodite only watches over human love, which can only be incomplete and very imperfect. The third goddess in the contest, Athena, is only one of the illegitimate children of Zeus, and therefore a lesser power which can certainly not rival Hera.
The latter will make the Trojans pay dearly for this unpardonable insult.
She sent the wife of Orion to the realm of Hades and according to Ovid, transformed Antigone, the daughter of Laomedon, into a stork, these two impudent women having had the brazenness of putting into question her superior beauty (pretending to higher Truth).
If Hera persecutes all of Zeus’ lovers and their illegitimate children it is because her duty is that of fighting against all who, in their aspiration for vaster and more luminous spaces, could be tempted to try to evade the right process of incarnation or to accelerate the evolutionary process while the right time has not yet come. For none can walk too far ahead from the rest of humanity.
The child which Hera persecuted with the greatest determination was of course Heracles, the hero who incarnates the process of purification and liberation. She did so with such determination that to protect his son, Zeus was obliged to temporarily suspend the action of his wife by chaining her in the skies with heavy anvils hanging from her feet.
She is also known to have tormented Io with a gadfly. Io, the mother of Epaphus ‘the touched (by the divine)’, is the state of consciousness of the seeker which allows the first contact with the Absolute.
She also cunningly suggested to Semele, the mother to be of Dionysus, ‘divine drunkenness’, to ask her divine lover Zeus to appear before her naked and in all his glory, which caused Semele to be consumed on the spot.
She also tried to impede the birth of Apollo and Artemis, which is to say of the expressions of the psychic being which must progressively govern the lower nature and lead man beyond the mind.
When facing Zeus however Hera’s power is mitigated, for the power of limitation cannot put a stop to the evolution which works towards the widening of conscious force. But neither can Zeus act without her, for she is the force which counterbalances and ensures that nothing is left behind.
Hera’s hatred is only an image of what the seeker can at times experience as a restricting force. In fact this force always corresponds to elements which are not yet transformed or purified or which have not yet attained perfection.
The forces which we encounter on the spiritual path can very rapidly lead to a mental, emotional and physical destabilisation if the preparation has been insufficient. It can seem obvious that we cannot surpass certain limits when we are not ready, but in the spiritual domain this fact is often ignored and the seeker can often tend to overestimate his degree of preparedness or his level of purity. This pretension is all the more developed when an individual is less advanced in his personal progress.
As a guardian of the great rhythms of the inferior planes, Hera ensures that each thing will be done at the right time.
As long as man has not completed his progression through the mental plane he is submitted to the dictates of the gods. Akin to Prometheus, who is tied to the side of a mountain, his liver devoured during the day by the eagle of Zeus and regenerating itself during the night, the seeker endures the alternation of cycles and the pain of the periods during which he is distanced from what is Real so as to win his freedom in the end.
Under one of her aspects, Hera, the force of limitation, thus manifests herself to man through a cyclical movement. When we will have become the equals of the gods, these cycles will no longer influence us; we will emerge from time, even if this may seem impossible at the moment. It will then be the story of ‘Prometheus Unbound’, a lost work attributed to Aeschylus.
Being exactly complementary to Zeus, Hera is consequently the goddess of marriage, an institution which in some way limits through an obligation of transformation.
She is also honoured as a young girl, a virgin and a bride, as an adult woman and a widow, which are successive expressions of ‘right movements’ at different stages of the quest.
She is the great goddess of Argos ‘clear, luminous and quick’, the city of the seekers of truth, who pursue what she symbolizes: the ‘right movement’, ‘precision’ and ‘what must be’.
Hera is often known as the goddess ‘of heifer eyes’. As cows are symbols of illumination, she is endowed with ‘an enlightened gaze’, for it is in the eyes that we can perceive the inner fire, the psychic being.
Hera’s animal symbol is the peacock, which, through his plumage unfurled in a majestic disk, symbolises the best aspect of the cycles and perhaps also the yogic victory.
It is the eyes of “Argos of the Hundred Eyes” which adorn the peacock’s plumage. The latter, who never sleeps and ‘sees all’ thanks to his many eyes, is the symbol of perfect vigilance. Hera trusted him with the care of Io, the common ancestor of Oedipus, Heracles and Europa, when she was transformed into a heifer. The eyes of Argos on the plumage of the peacock represent the unfolding of consciousness in all directions.
Hera bore four of Zeus’ children. She bore two sons, Ares and Hephaestus, and two daughters, Ilithya and Hebe, and all four are personifications of essential aspects of the union between Zeus and Hera. According to Hesiod, Hephaestus was conceived by Hera alone.
The gods rule over the world of forms, the principal characteristic of which is impermanence in the world which surrounds us. They renew themselves more or less rapidly depending on our perception of time, acting under the influence of powers or laws with which the Greek masters of wisdom have associated various gods. Between Ares, the bellicose god of war, and Hephaestus, the divine blacksmith, the division of roles seems obvious: while Ares destroys the old forms, Hephaestus elaborate new ones.
In regards to Hera’s daughters, Hebe represents the process of the right incarnation of the Absolute in matter (Β). If one brings the attention to the ‘right movement’, one understands what Krishnamurti calls ‘the liberation of what is known’, which opens the doors of what is eternally new.
Hebe is the personification of eternal youth; hers is the principle of turning all eyes towards the future without looking back, abandoning old forms and never giving in to what seems to be irreparable. In the words of the Mother, ‘To be young is to live in the future for the future. To be young is to be always ready to abandon what one is in order to become what one ought to be….To be young is never to admit the irreparable.’ (Mother’s Agenda Volume 8, entry from March 29, 1967)
It is she who serves the nectar of immortality to the gods before this task is carried out by Ganymede, ‘he who watches over joy ‘, for she is the force which leads to the eternal present, and the one who allows us to step out of the trap of time.
Her work begins in the lower planes, and she is mostly active at the beginnings of physical yoga. She is the spouse of Heracles during the apotheosis of the hero; when the seeker reaches the level of the overmind and begins the yoga of the body he escapes time, which is dependent on mental perception, thus acquiring ‘eternal youth’.
Ilithya is the goddess who watches over childbirth during both labour and birth. She thus assists what aspires to be born, often in pain, and the newness which always originates from within. But she cannot act without the support of her mother, also a goddess of childbirth, and who sometimes delays her arrival. Ilithya could mean ‘she who comes to aid’, and her name is in fact formed around the characters Λ+Θ+Ι, which then express a process of ‘inner liberation of consciousness’ or of a ‘widening of consciousness from the center outwards’.
Through her power over Ilithyia, Hera delayed two births: that of the twins Apollo and Artemis and that of Heracles, for she who watches over the right movement of the cycles is of course refractory to what must surpass their influence.
On the circle of the twelve gods Hera faces Zeus.
While he represents expansion and externalisation, she is the force of limitation, retraction and internalisation.
United to Zeus, + Ρ, she strives for the union of earth and sky without leaving anything behind.
Hera within us
Within us, Hera is what protects from the consequences of Zeus’ excess of externalisation, what imposes limits, and most importantly what reminds us ceaselessly to recenter and engage in a movement of retreat to desidentify oneself. She represents the necessary breaks and obstacles which she keeps imposing on us as long as we do not surpass them, thus encouraging patience and endurance.
Her partnership with Zeus calls for a complete vigilance of the ‘ right act ‘, including word, feeling and thought. She is the inward-going movement which allows for the integration of what has been experienced externally in an uninterrupted movement of extension of consciousness.
She teaches us to submit to divine laws, and gives us the perception of cycles.
She is a great protectress if we heed her warnings, and is at the origin of the signs given to us by life.