Zeus and Hera: Images of a Divine Syzygy

Zeus

“He was a sky god, associated with wind, rain, thunder, and lightning, and was the master of spiritual phenomena, since it was the spirit realm that was signified by the sky and the manifestations of the weather. He was a carrier of justice and judgment, an embodiment of law and the punisher of transgression of the law, accomplished by the hurling of the thunderbolt. He was the personification of creative energy, which constantly spilled out and had an unceasing urge to impregnate, hence his perpetual love affairs.” Edward Edinger, The Eternal Drama: The Inner Meaning of Greek Mythology

Zeus 512px-Rubens_medici_cycle_meeting_at_Lyon

In Edinger’s description of Zeus, we see the image of a powerful masculine ruler of the heavens. Although Zeus is still one of many gods, he is both leader and creator of the pantheon. And just as importantly, we see Zeus’ engagements with his wife, Hera, not as his compliment, but as a shadowy cohort. And although Zeus and Hera are said to be married, the relationship seems less relational and more pro-generative. Zeus is much less interested in a relationship with Hera, but rather a preoccupation with the power to endlessly create through the continual love affairs outside of his marriage. In the realm of the gods, we may see these creative urges as saying less about the familial, and more about the archetypal urge towards expansion through creative reproduction, or differentiating and articulating the One through the diversity of the Many.

Edinger’s own words, in which he declares Zeus as he who “…comes closest of all the members of the Pantheon to embodying the whole Self,” we see an obvious bias, still with us today, towards a preference for a more masculine style of consciousness. Hera, on the other hand, as the feminine divine, is somehow a necessary accomplice and more of a saturnine threat of imprisonment that spurs on Zeus’ impulse for freedom. If the stories of the gods are expressions of particular styles of consciousness, we are glimpsing the ways in which Western civilization values the initiatory force of masculine power, while reducing the value of the feminine, as that which induces fear in the masculine, of time-bound constraint, and the threat of limitation. Is then, the masculine impulse a prerequisite for creative action that requires an abandoned shadowy feminine? If so, is this dynamic the springboard from which Western Civilization arose?

We might pause here to remind ourselves when considering ideas about mythology to see them not so much as literal figures representing male and female, or even as ways to understand male and femaleness, but as powers of the psyche whose dynamics take hold of the cultural imagination and live through us, sanctified, although sometimes shadowy collective influences. As dynamics, these traits persist, even where individuals themselves may more or less incorporate them within a particular lifetime.

“There are long lists of the lovers of Zeus, and by and large they had an unhappy time of it. Hera, personifying the feminine embodiment of the Self, was fiercely opposed to these dalliances, and would often punish Zeus’ lovers. For example, Zeus fell in love with the beautiful Io and then turned her into a white cow so that she could escape Hera’s detection. This ruse failed and Hera set gadflies after her which, stinging, pursued her around the world.”

Edinger, Edward F.. The Eternal Drama: The Inner Meaning of Greek Mythology

Zeus,_Semele_und_Hera._Flämisch,_3._Viertel_17._Jahrhundert_(Erasmus_Quellinus_II_oder_Jan_Erasmus_Quellinus)

Rather than the separate dynamics of masculine and feminine, aren’t we though, seeing a syzygy  within the relationship between Zeus and Hera? And, in what ways do these dynamics reassemble within our own modes of modern day consciousness? Although there’s no denying that the archetypes play out between actual men and women, and that men and women are afforded different degrees of power by virtue of their physical nature and social-political norms, can we also see the ways in which all of us have inherited a portion of Zeus’ quest for power, and Hera’s jealous ploys to address or balance the excess? For if as Jung states, the gods have become diseases, surely this syzygy is one of them! The more a Zeus-like excess threatens to destroy the world as we know it, the more outrageous the response of Hera’s house-holding economics becomes.

Where Edinger sees Zeus as the bold exhort of creativity, bringing the endless gifts of light and expanding consciousness, perhaps through the shadowy side of that light we see an insatiable desire for power accompanied by a complete disregard for consequences, desperately in need of Hera’s restraint. Does he then, not attempt to appease her with the riches of the household and all the distraction and substitution for feminine creativity it might contain?

Hera

“There are long lists of the lovers of Zeus, and by and large they had an unhappy time of it. Hera, personifying the feminine embodiment of the Self, was fiercely opposed to these dalliances, and would often punish Zeus’ lovers.” Edward Edinger

Within the syzygy, isn’t this just a little too lopsided a view of Hera’s role? While she remains that which shadows Zeus, the syzygy is deprived of the feminine aspect of creative urges. Perhaps we see in Hera the opportunity to imagine the qualities of a divine feminine as that embodiment of containment and restriction necessary for the creative powers of Zeus to be of actual service. But as the keeper of the household, amassing possessions to appease her, we see only opportunity missed.

Jupiter and Io, espied by Juno by Italian SchoolIt bears noting that if we are in the midst of an era of a lopsided patriarchal power, and that power has become the exploitative grandiosity of “too much of a good thing” that underlies so much of what is going wrong, the story of Zeus and Hera might help us to see in what ways Hera’s feminine resistance is not only missing, but could be a necessary correction. And how interesting it might be to see Hera’s plea as the desire for a more relational mode of being. It might help us too, to train the eyes for images of the masculine and feminine in syzygy that do appear in a relational dynamic in which excess and constraint are bound together, reflecting the necessity for each other.

In James Hillman’s, Mythic Figures, he echoes Edinger’s idea of the necessity for Zeus to go off on his heroic quest of never-ending expansion. Although Hillman is looking the phenomenon straight in the eye, he doesn’t apply the myth to our current cultural mess.

If we don’t know the myths, we don’t understand what fantasies we have when we go into a union. When we go into the bedroom we don’t know which myth we are enacting. He goes into the cave with the fantasy of a child of Venus. For him this is a pleasurable, delightful experience. But she is under the guidance of Juno. She goes in with the marriage fantasy of deep coupling. Soon after he gets a message from Hermes that he must get on with his job which is to go found Rome, and so he sets sail. She’s absolutely destroyed. Desertion, betrayal. For him it’s not a betrayal because he came with a different fantasy. For her, it is a radical violation of the laws of the universe, the very Queen of Heaven. And she never forgives him, because she appears in the Underworld still enraged, embittered forever.

Hillman, James. Mythic Figures. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

He does goes on to imply that Hera might find consolation through domestication in the care and maintenance of the household which has become her domain; a place where she can invest her powers as an “upholder of civilization,” but where her creative impulse remains outwardly directed inside the house.

Society is intimately connected in Hera to the psyche and to biological laws. In that way she is the upholder of civilization, of providing the homestead, the economy, the household, the domestication, the husbandry of civilization, so that marriage becomes something dedicated to service to principles higher than personal happiness. The house stands for both civil society and my personal property.

Hillman, James. Mythic Figures. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Where Zeus and Hera provide an archetypal background for both marriage and economy as the primary structures that uphold Western Civilization, we can perhaps begin to recognize the correlative loss of the riches once known through pagan and tribal cultures, where, although the creative impulse may never have given us the bounty that the West provided, but provided a more direct experience of the divine in its rituals and recognition of the value of the collective. Through Zeus, Hera and much of the mythology of the Greek pantheon, we get a glimpse of what truly distinguishes us, but also of what ultimately keeps us heroically driven, outwardly expanding, inwardly impoverished, all in response to the creative impulse gone wildly independent and outside of relationship. Perhaps there is a middle way that could flourish if we survive the current tests of our time.

13 thoughts on “Zeus and Hera: Images of a Divine Syzygy

  1. A practice its necessary, to keep us anchored, otherwise things to go out of focus, lot of people achieve something Spiritually speaking, only to lose it, when they believe they have arrived to their goal.
    As paraphrasing:
    The game of life its not over, until life its over.
    We fulfill our plan of life, until the moment we die.
    And its up to each of us to keep the candle flame going.
    The light from a humble candle is also said to symbolize the enlightenment of the Buddha.
    We cannot let it go out, neither allow our knife to go dull, or our mirror to get rusty.

    https://konekrusoskronos.wordpress.com/2019/03/20/polishing-the-heart-mirror-of-the-soul/

    Blessings to you Debra. 🙂

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  2. Thank you Debra for your response. 🙂

    Talking about these issues its fascinating to me.

    What you say its true to a certain point.

    But first let me say that I study Religions, but I am not a follower of any particular Religion.
    I fall on the unpopular category of SBNR (Spiritual but not Religious) my life studies of over sixty years had take me on many routes, if interested to find about it, you can read my post:

    https://konekrusoskronos.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/my-views-on-religion-atheism-buddhism-and-other-manifestations-of-the-human-spirit-houston-smith-a-life-on-religion/

    In it I pour my own experiences, although do not reveal my many years practicing diverse methodologies towards Enlightenment, and those of Houston Smith, a person I met, and talked with a few times.

    Smith devoted his life to the study of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism. He believes in them all.

    In the same post I published part of a Houston’s interview elucidating the problem, pretty much as I see it.

    As in the parable of the Talents Matthew 25:14–30.

    Spiritually speaking, you can only take, as much as you put in.

    It’s not a matter of what you believe, as much as to what you do, with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello again, dear Burning Heart!

      I wholeheartedly agree that what we do with, or through, a practice of our ideas or beliefs matters most. I hope that my words are not giving a different impression here.

      Speaking for myself, unless a lived experience penetrates to the heart, mind and body, I will not be impacted by what happens to me; the good, the bad and the ugly. Pain and suffering are potential motivators and educators that lead me beyond former limits and patterns that no longer serve me, and especially the other people in my life.

      I am currently struggling to learn how to navigate through the woods of some very intense, much needed life changes, in which I am just beginning to gain some insight and understanding of how difficult it is to live a life as one among others and engage people in a healthier manner. So, the intensity of my interest in all things esoteric and spiritual, is a safe place for me to go to find peace from the difficulties I have always had being around, and interacting with other people. Maybe that is the path some of us must follow, but my current wish to push on through to a place where the fear I have isn’t so stifling and is keeping me stuck in a loneliness of not being able to bridge the distance between self and others.

      Beliefs have never set well with me either, although I have joined, and subsequently left, five “churches,” since the age of 11. I consider formal religious organizations to offer us no more than training wheels – with the addition of both the blessing and challenge of fellowship – which can be useful depending on where we are on the journey, yes?

      There are, within these esoteric practices, ideas that can and do now offer me a way to ground this difficult period of my life in a perspective that honors the suffering and perhaps can also lead me into insights that facilitate some much needed changes. Through alchemy (for example), I can place myself within a variety of specific stages of the work, each with their own style or coloring, which can bring understanding to the nature of feelings and beliefs, substantiating them with very specific ways that ground the spiritual/psychological work into what is currently challenging me. Astrology offers another way of imagining the powers that have their grip on me, while also showing me the ways in which recognition and a radical acceptance can help me know when to push and when to slow down and let my feelings speak.

      I hope to write more soon, and perhaps even a post here, specifically about how much my past writing has unexpectedly become a guide for me in recent months. Little did I know year’s ago that I was in a sense, and unknowingly, writing notes to my future self.

      Writing, of course, is never enough. I am finding that desire and emotion might be better, even if forceful, guides, inescapable as they are for distilling what appears to be going on, down to a more raw essence of what the heart is most in need of – and that is always a deeper and more expansive way of participating in love that is both grounded and yet partakes of a divine spirit, which reminds me that “I” am a co-creator of something much bigger than “me.” What I need most to practice is perhaps a spirit of cooperation as a being who is simply one among many.

      Thanks for these exchanges! I look forward to reading your posts that you linked to here.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. One of the things I discovered during my studies on Religions, was to find out that if most Western civilization its based on mayor part on one of the three Abrahamic religions, depending on your personal Faith and background.

    Meanwhile Judaism, and Islam, can accuse us so named Christians as the Muslims will say, of shirk.

    In Islam, shirk is the sin of practicing idolatry or polytheism, i.e., the deification or worship of anyone or anything besides the singular God, i.e., Allah. Literally, it means ascribing or the establishment of partners placed beside God.

    Its said that the whole of Western civilization and Christianity in particular, at its core its Greek pagan, wearing a Christian dress, so our inner core, of values, that Freud easily identified, and expanded by many since, we reflect that view.

    On itself as you mention the word syzygy.

    “animus and anima represent a supreme pair of opposites, the syzygy”

    I find Jung, Hillman, plus others valuable, but I recognize the split right at the core of our values, and the problem that derives from such a split.

    On itself a whole material for many books.

    Thank you, its always a reward, and enjoyable to read your posts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Burning Heart!

      It is an interesting phenomena, yes? Although there are many ways to make comparisons, the historic comparison for example, or perhaps an evolutionary comparison, which I see as providing a map of a steady progression from polytheism to monotheism. I suspect that monotheism seen in this perspective is a result of the conflict between competing polytheistic cultures vying for the heart and soul of its people, even if by hook or by crook. Monotheism then, offers a way to elevate the one God among many, and hence, simply remove the competition through the imposition of a hierarchy. This might be a handy tool when trying to maintain cohesiveness in a world where tribal cultures once isolated, are slowly expanding their reach towards each other.

      Psychologically, I sense that we more naturally experience a multitude of gods via our general experience of being one being among a multitude of otherness. If this otherness can be understood as that which potentially reaches to the core of the heavens, the archetypal realm, it may add to each persons limited reach a necessary differentiation between the ideas that grip us into constructing a single world view and surrounding ourselves within its confines.

      Perhaps someday, we might more readily access an overview that allows us to see the ways that we humans have both widened and narrowed our view over time and because of technology. A split, whether of the one into two, or the one into many, is still none the less, a split, yes? To both see and feel oneself into a whole is perhaps the healing so many of us seek and sense is there.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah!!! I was just explaining how language disrupts an ability to communicate wholeness by the fact of how language itself is structured, as well as the part of the brain from which it tends to spring. I would go so far as to say wholeness can only be felt, it never can be fully expressed. But wholeness does allow for great discoveries in a whole mind. And I’d love to know who the artist was who painted that “wild” painting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh the irony! I’ve always struggled with the idea of wholeness, but the way you phrased it, suggesting that wholeness might be likened to the ground of being, an analog background to a digital foreground, makes sense to me (not to put words in your mouth). Depending on your view of consciousness, wholeness could be a way to describe the field in which our consciousness is but a participant in. In that sense, each of us do participate in wholeness, even if we can’t ever grasp the whole of that which we are inside of.

      Which painting, the last one?

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      1. Its curious to me…because I have sensed that wholeness isn’t the result of just a left and right brain together, but a synthesis that takes place that appears to be greater than the sum of their parts.

        Oh, I only noticed the one with those animals.

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      2. As the idea of “left” and “right” brain most likely fails the reality of what the brain is, and will always remains somewhat unknown to us as we can’t get outside of consciousness to be objective about its source or workings. So yes, to see that the totality of the brain is greater than the sum of the parts makes sense to me.

        The painting is Ruben’s The Meeting of Marie de Médicis and Henri IV at Lyon.

        History of the painting:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_de%27_Medici_cycle

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