When we were in our thirties my husband and I were invited to a party at the home of a couple we’d recently met. Halfway through the evening I was sitting on the stairs when a man I didn’t know sat beside me. As we made small talk I began to realize he was flirting with me. I’m not great at flirting so I was a bit uncomfortable, but he wasn’t saying anything the least bit offensive or inappropriate so I remained open and friendly.
After a time three women walked to the foot of the stairs, sat in a semicircle on the floor, and stared coldly and silently up at me. The hostility emanating from them was visible. I tried to include them in the conversation, but they simply sat and glared. I felt awful. I realized they must be friends of this man’s wife — perhaps one of them was his wife — who were banding together to intimidate this new female whom they saw as a threat. I had done nothing provocative, yet these women were obviously furious at me for attracting his attention.
This seemed so strange. They were not mad at the man, even though their behavior suggested he might have had an unsavory track record. They were mad at me, a woman they didn’t even know. It didn’t seem to occur to them that they had probably been in similar situations. They seemed to feel no kinship with me whatsoever. Our femaleness was not a basis of understanding and compassion, but grounds for suspicion and hatred.
In Greek mythology, Hera, the long-suffering, loyal wife of the powerful, philandering Zeus, was like the women at the foot of the stairs. When Zeus deceived and seduced the innocent maiden Callisto, Hera in her jealous rage turned Callisto into a Bear which she then plotted to have Callisto’s son kill. Zeus got off scot-free. This sort of thing happens again and again in the Greek myths. Why? Because Zeus and Hera represent archetypal patterns.
Of the seven major Greek goddesses that represent feminine archetypes, Hera is the one I’ve always liked least. Her fidelity and commitment to her husband were admirable, but she was so darned jealous and spiteful and their relationship was so filled with hostility and tension that they had no real intimacy. Moreover, her single-minded devotion to her role of wife and her power struggle with her more dominant partner in that one-sided relationship blinded her to the innocence of any woman who might unwittingly capture his notice.
“Hera possession” is a shadow of the Queen archetype. Our healthy Queen represents our potential to be sovereign over our own lives, understanding and caring partners, and cultural leaders who nurture healthy growth in others. But as long as our ego’s fragility and outward focus compel us to conform to society’s level of awareness, we will, like Hera, sacrifice everything — including opportunities for growth, relationships with friends and loved ones, and the most precious truths of our souls — to remain in the dark womb of inertia and unknowing where we can maintain our illusion of safety and status. Like Hera, we may not be very happy there, but we will defend our position to our last breath.
And who will pay for our fearful need to conform? Whoever happens to be in the line of fire.
Ego and God-Image: Part VI
[T]he most important relationship of childhood, the relation to the mother, will be compensated by the mother archetype as soon as detachment from the childhood
Awareness is everything. I can’t begin to tell you how appreciative I am of the information and personal wisdom you present on your blog. It’s delivered in such an understandable and personal way that I often find myself bumping into Matrignosis as I reflect on thoughts and experiences during the day.
The scenario you described at the party…yes, without any effort I can picture that in my mind’s eye. Jealousy is a powerful emotion and has much to teach me about myself and others. As I release ownership of things that were never meant to be owned, I feel jealousy being transformed into personal power.
When I was 16, my family moved from the city to a small town in another state. Previously, I had been attending a parochial girls’ high school and after the move found myself in a small, pubic school. Nothing prepared me for the hate and jealousy sent my way by a group of senior girls. When I read your story, it brought back those memories but with a new perspective. Thank you, Jeanie!
I just love your comment that you often find yourself “bumping into Matrignosis” as you reflect on your daily experiences! What a delightful way to describe your process of becoming self-aware! I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know that my posts are giving you more perspective on your life! Your comment is a generous gift to me. Thank you.
Great story, Jeanie. Here’s what I’d like to know: Is there a comparable story in Greek, or any other mythology, where the roles are reversed and a married man is the object of woman’s attention–this has probably happened once or twice in recorded history–followed by men focusing their anger on the man, when it should be the woman they are castigating. If not, I’d love to hear your opinion, why not.
Your work is always thought provoking.
What a great question. You really got me thinking! I can’t think of an ancient myth with the scenario you paint: a married man is seduced by a woman and is then punished by the males, etc., but I can think of another way of reversing the roles if we use Hera and Zeus’s story as the prototype instead of mine. In their story, the married man (Zeus) seduces a single woman (Callisto) who is then punished by the man’s wife (Hera). In this case, the question would be, is there a story in which the married woman seduces a man who is punished by the woman’s husband?
Bingo! The Iliad! Many sources allude to Helen (a married woman) willingly leaving Menelaus (her husband) and eloping with the single man, Paris, to the city of Troy. Was she, the most beautiful (and therefore, extremely powerful) woman in the ancient world, the one who seduced him? Some believe this was the case. In this scenario it is the wronged husband, Menelaus, who punishes not only Paris, but the entire city of Troy because of his wife’s infidelity! And then he takes his wife back, just as Hera always took Zeus back.
So I guess the moral is that male and female alike contain a seducer and a seducee; a betrayer and a betrayee; a punisher and a punishee! In societies that are one-sidedly patriarchal or matriarchal, you might see these parts played out most often in certain gender-specific ways, but beneath the surface we’re all capable of filling any of these roles, regardless of gender.
Thanks for posing such a fun and intriguing thought-puzzle!
Excellent, Jeanie. The Iliad, yes, very good example. I took a course in the Iliad during college–about a hundred years ago–and had completely forgotten about that.
Yes, beneath the surface we all seem capable of any role. That makes perfect sense.
Thanks for taking the time to answer the question. I knew you’d be up to the task.
Thanks, Charlie. It was fun. Jeanie