Hera Possession


This post from September 27, 2011 is one of my top five most-read since I started this blog.  It’s time I posted it again, this time with three new paragraphs at the end!  Enjoy.

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?  Everyone. Women being jealous of other women, women not liking other women, women not wanting to mentor or learn from other women — this kind of divisiveness among women is not good for anyone, anywhere. Women will never fully break through the patriarchal glass ceiling that tries to prevent us from attaining fair and equal treatment unless we do two things.

First, we need to question and change negative gender-related attitudes by working on ourselves. I can think of at least seven goals we should work toward. If you can think of more to add to this list, let me know:

  • be more mindful of subtle forms of discrimination against you because of your gender

  • be more mindful of your attitudes and treatment of men which might unconsciously trigger your negative attitudes and behavior toward other women

  • train yourself to treat everyone with respect and fairness regardless of gender (or age, skin color, or anything else)

  • acknowledge your inherent worth and the inherent worth of all human beings

  • learn to love yourself and treat yourself with kindness, regardless of how others treat you

  • assume your rightful responsibilities at work, home, and in society; fulfill them to the best of your abilities

  • ask for the same respect and just treatment you give to others from anyone who denies it to you, regardless of their gender

Second, align yourself with wise and caring like-minded sisters and brothers who want to help. Work with them to achieve the egalitarian treatment everyone deserves. It’s bad enough when others try to diminish us. Let’s not do it to ourselves or each other.

Image credit:  Google free images, artist unknown

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Her new book, The Soul’s Twins, will be launched next year.

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10 Responses

  1. As someone who’s played both roles (of the seducer and the seduced) several times in my life, I resonate deeply with your article Jeanie … especially how mythically Hera and Zeus behaved in their marriage … which is always fun and thought-provoking to read about!
    In my last relationship we swapped those archetypal roles at least three times! Yet what a learning curve and how less judgmental I became due to those lived experiences. I guess behind closed doors there’s often another story or haunting, as James Hollis writes, going on.
    Thank you for gifting us those great goals! Most especially to align ourselves with other like-minded souls. Along those lines I’m left wondering if jealousy is really just an inner problem which stems from the ego’s rejection of Self … which (unknowingly) gets projected onto the outer world or person?
    If so, the only cure I’ve found when consumed by jealousy myself is to turn within … thus Hera, the Goddess who wounds, quickly becomes the Goddess who heals! Well this is my way out of the condition of envy when it descends.
    As always, loving your reposts Jeanie and this one has got me thinking for sure! I urge all your readers to return to the original posting and read the rich replies there, in particular the conversation you had with Charles! Warm autumnal blessings, Deborah.

    1. I love the connection you’ve made between jealousy and the ego’s rejection of the Self! If it’s always projected onto others, then it’s never accepted as the core of one’s own psyche! But of course. That’s a brilliant insight. I never thought of it that way. And the only way to accept it is to stop searching for it outside yourself and start looking within.
      I can vouch for the practical value of that. Once you start recognizing that it lives within you — in the form of all the dream images and inner prodding, urges, needs, desires, bright and dark shadow, and synchronistic occurrences and knowings etc. — and start following them instead of looking for affirmation and validation from others, you begin to feel so known and loved by something wonderful beyond yourself that your demands and expectations of others decreases dramatically. It’s remarkably transforming.
      I also like your mention of Hera’s positive, healing qualities. We’re so used to hearing criticisms of her that people tend to forget them.
      Blessings, Jeanie

    1. Thank you Catherine. Unfortunately, there’s no way I can change your mailing address from here, so you’ll need to go back to the sidebar on my home page and enter your new email address and that will take care of it! Thanks again, Jeanie

  2. Boy, Jean I remember the days of your experience with that gentleman, as I too have had many terrible experiences. I think the “ME TOO” movement is starting to wake women and men up that it is not the other woman who is the problem. However, there still are experiences where women attack the other woman even though she is not doing anything. For example. I volunteer at a museum with a gentleman, who I enjoy. He is a nice person. We are each married. However, years ago the man had an affair, so now his wife suspects every woman that the man interacts with even though nothing bad is taking place. It is a frustrating experience as I enjoy people and treat men and women the same as I am a “people-person” but constantly being suspected of wrong doing, when NOTHING is happening makes working with this man difficult as we each have to watch our interactions. The man is not flirting with me, nor am I flirting with him. I want to sit down with his wife and have a discussion with her, but the man does not recommend it. It is interesting dealing with other women sometimes.

    1. I’ve also had that experience. And the opposite happens just as often: the husband gets mad at other men for talking to his wife, even when she’s only being friendly. This really isn’t a gender issue. Jealousy is archetypal.
      As I wrote in my comment to Charles in Sept. 2011, Menelaus waged war on Troy because his wife, Helen, left him for Paris. Of course, this is a different situation from the one I described above, as both sides were complicit in that seduction!
      Which speaks to Deborah’s comment above, that she has played both roles several times in her life, being sometimes the seducer and sometimes the seductress. That’s a perfect example of how all the opposites live within us, which means there’s no point in stereotyping gender roles, because we all have the same psychological potential regardless of gender.
      By the way, this is the exact point of my new book: The Soul’s Twins. I’ll keep you informed on the publication date!

  3. The story of Helen of Troy is rich indeed. I recently read Margaret George: Helen of Troy. George is an American historical novelist. Mary, Called Magdalene was also rich. George is known to be an excellent and accurate researcher. Apart from that, I wonder sometimes how unkindness towards other women comes about. Or lack of kindness. It must point to one’s own view of one’s self surely. Thus, as you say Jeanie, the work begins at home. From the microcosm to the macrocosm. Thank you for this lovely post. I’m going to see if I can find the original!

  4. Yes, I think that women who don’t like other women struggle with a deep lack of self-worth and are conflicted about their own femininity. I suspect they have been diminished and denied opportunities by the dominant males in their cultural groups in their youth and hope to gain acceptance by siding with the prevailing views of the powerful males in their cultures. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Kind of like the ambitious, intelligent, tough-minded feminists here in the U.S. during the 70’s and 80’s who thought that by dressing like men and acting like men they’d gain more respect and promotions, etc.
    I think it’s a good thing that we don’t see many younger women like that here in the U.S. today. At least I don’t. I think it may be a necessary phase of awakening –they used to call it consciousness raising — to injustice that women in strong patriarchal cultures need to go through before they become strong and comfortable enough with themselves to claim just and egalitarian treatment for themselves and other women.

  5. This is so timely, Jeanie–no matter when it was written. We watched the hatred of women when Hillary Clinton ran for president. Now it’s there against Elizabeth Warren, no matter how competent and smart and skilled she would be as a president. She’s a woman and should remain subservient to men–not aspire to the Queen Archetype. Thanks again for another thought-provoking post.

    1. Yes. It’s so painful to see negative attitudes against women coming from the highest levels of society. And it’s even more painful to me when women defend these attitudes in men and blame other women for them.
      One thing that gives me great hope for changing some of these attitudes is seeing the many brilliant female newscasters and commentators on major news networks. The more women we see in positions like this, the more we will recognize unconscious stereotypical thinking in ourselves and our country. Also, these women provide excellent social models of effective thinking and speaking skills about complex matters combined with generous-spirited, articulate, and open minds.
      Thanks for writing, Elaine.

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