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.

Syzygy

Next, in James Hillman’s book, Anima, the Anatomy of a Personified Notion, he considers whether or not ego, understood here as the most dominant part of our conscious experience and the agent of our identity, is a syzygy of anima and animus. Fascinating idea that can best be considered within the context of western cultural consciousness. While equally fascinating, there isn’t time here to fully consider the conscious experience of other cultures, or the possibility of an emerging global consciousness. Let’s begin with some quotes from the book (I can never do this book justice in these brief posts, and so do highly recommend Hillman’s book to anyone interested in the subject). First, from Jung, who remains the springboard for Hillman’s ideas:

Together they [anima and animus] form a divine pair … the divine syzygy … (CW   9.2: 41; cf. 25– 42)

… the syzygy motif … expresses the fact that a masculine element is always paired with a feminine one. (CW   9.1: 134)

Hillman uses these quotes to emphasize that pairings, often understood and expressed as opposites in our culture, are also a syzygy; tandem, interpenetrated couplings, which constellate together, often without our awareness of their interrelatedness. Within a syzygy of anima and animus Hillman notes the difficulty of seeing the pair together while one or the other always filters the lens of our perception:

For if anima has been the subject of investigation, animus has been the investigator. Or does it work the other way around – if animus has been the logos plan and the activity of making words serve critical discrimination, anima has been feathering those words and guiding their direction with her fantasies.

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Australian Pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus), Claremont, Tasmania, Australia.
Anima and animus, as do all archetypes, show up in an inseparable tandem. Even more accurate, archetypal influence always comes to us in personified, but less than pure forms. It is the particular nature of the animus, or egoic, seemingly objective perception, that seeks to separate archetypal influence into pure forms. We see these personified notions in mythological beings with their specificity expressed in story by the roles they play in relationships to other personified forms. We also see and live it in our day-to-day lives. Jung concurs:

From this fact we may reasonably conclude that man’s imagination is bound by this [syzygy] motif, so that he was largely compelled to project it again and again, at all times and in all places” (CW   9.1: 120).

Imagination, remember, is not that thing we are told to develop for creative endeavors, but, for better or worse, it is the means by which we perceive and function psychologically. Hillman reminds us that the word psychology itself is a syzygy, and that neither he, nor his essay (or mine for that matter), is free from archetypal influence, and yet, psychology, at its best is the awareness and acceptance of the bounds of archetypal syzygies:

This essay is a mythical activity of anima coming on as a critical activity of animus. Yet, just this is psychology, the interpenetration of psyche and logos, within the bounds of the syzygy who sets the limits to our psychological field so that we cannot imagine beyond it.

Our western culture in particular seems to struggle with the acceptance of any limits of objectivity, while curiously ever reminding ourselves and others of the subjectivity that colors all opinion. Syzygy in action? Hillman suggests that a way to deepen our reflections beyond oppositional thinking and pairing, would be to shift the emphasis in our perception from the standpoint of animus, or the objective mode, to that of anima, by reimagining pairs, not as opposites, but through a variety of forms of relationship:

To imagine in pairs and couples is to think mythologically. Mythical thinking connects pairs into tandems rather than separating them into opposites which is anyway a mode of philosophy. Opposites lend themselves to very few kinds of description: contradictories, contraries, complementaries, negations – formal and logical. Tandems, however, like brothers or enemies or traders or lovers show endless varieties of styles. Tandems favor intercourse – innumerable positions. Opposition is merely one of the many modes of being in a tandem.

I so love his thinking here. How often do I find myself ready to do battle, whether interiorly, or exteriorly, as ideas and relationships often present as opposites, and opposites in turn often present themselves as being in conflict. I continually need to remind myself that life, and the ten thousand moments that make up a day, are not battles to be won, opinions to own or disown, but call for more and deeper reflection of the many other possible ways of perceiving all that presents itself at each moment.

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Habsburg Peacock“ with the coats of arms of the Habsburg lands, Augsburg 1555

Along the same lines of thinking, it’s helpful to see that pairings do have a purpose. Because of their contrasting characteristics, we readily see them. That which eludes our consciousness is often too smeary and unclear to apprehend. Ironically, the more multiple the personified mythological, archetypal forms present themselves to us, the more unified they may seem. This is similar to seeing the forest from a distance in which the tree is no longer distinct enough to see. Alchemically speaking, this unity/multiplicity mode is often imaged as the feathers of the peacock.

Perhaps too, the tendency towards perceiving pairings and oppositional thinking arises psychologically so readily because it does so physically through the human experience of gender.

Nonetheless, essential to thinking in syzygies is thinking in genders. Unfortunately, the next step in analytical psychology has been identifying these genders with actual men and women, coupling kinds of syzygies between man-and-anima, woman-and-animus, man-and-woman, and fourth, anima-and-animus, even with diagrams, for example, the lengthy discussion of the Gnostic symbol of the Self.

Hillman reminds us, as do the alchemists, among others, who said, “as above, so below,” that whatever is going on externally has an internal correlation.

Projections occur between parts of the psyche, not only outside into the world. They occur between internal persons and not only onto external people.

A Hebe wants a Hercules and Hercules does it for Hebe – and not just on the college campus between cheerleader and linebacker but “in here.” My hebephrenic soul, young and silly and tied by social conventions, the bride and her shower, produces an ego that comes home like a hero showing off and bearing trophies. Or, within the smiling, innocent girl is ruthless ambition in a lion’s skin, forever wrestling Old Age and able to harrow Hell itself.

As in alchemy, images of the goal are often hermaphroditic, which curiously seem to be much more externally present in our western culture. Perhaps these images, literalized or not, express a cultural pregnancy awaiting a birth of a more psychological nature. I’d like to think so, even while remaining cautiously optimistic, and without an expectation or an understanding of what, or to where, that birthing might take us. A good quote to end with:

The objective spirit, that goal of our Western intellectual endeavor, is an attempt of the soul to free itself by means of the animus from the valley of its attachments. And the figure in dreams who judges is the one who both frees us from anima imprisonments and sentences us with his opinions. To consider every position in terms of the syzygy reflects a “hermaphroditic” consciousness in which the One and the Other are co-present, a priori, at all times, a hermetic duplicity and Aphroditic coupling going on in every event.

All quotes, except as noted, Hillman, James; Jung, C.G. (2015-08-14). Anima: Anatomy of a Personified Notion. Spring Publications. Inc.. Kindle Edition.