In Praise of Juno

by Rohase Piercy

Silver Statuette of Juno, 1st–2nd century -Dutuit Bequest, 1902Every woman has her ‘juno’.  Guiding spirit, higher self, female genius, call her what you will, according to Roman belief we all have one, just as every man has his ‘genius’.  Whatever the social, political and domestic restrictions imposed by patriarchal Rome upon its women, here was something no husband, father or master could deny: a little piece of the Celestial Goddess, the Saviour, Mother and Queen of Rome, resided in every woman, slave and free, as a guide and companion through life. The concept of female Deity would soon be all but obliterated by the new religion of Christianity with its masculine threefold God, but women of the Classical era still took it for granted that they, like their Bronze Age ancestresses, reflected the Divine image equally with men.  Juno’s Greek counterpart, Hera, offered a role-model to women throughout every stage of life, from Pais (child) to Khera (widow); but Juno goes a step further, and personifies the female principle itself.

The etymology of Juno’s name is thought to be linked to the Latin iuven, ‘youthful’, shortened to iun as a prefix (as in iunior, younger). Emile Benveniste identifies the original meaning of this root as ‘vital force’, connecting it with the Vedic word ayuh, ‘genius of the vital force’.  Contemporary Roman commentators also saw a link to iuvare, ‘to aid’ or ‘to benefit’, re-enforcing Juno’s identification with her Etruscan counterpart Uni, whose name is thought to mean ‘She Who Gives’.  Following the conquest of the Etruscan city of Veii in 396 BCE an evocatio was performed, issuing a solemn invitation to the Etruscan Goddess to transfer her allegiance to Rome.  The invitation appears to have been accepted: Uni was worshipped in Rome as Iuno Regina, and her Temple on the Aventine Hill housed the ancient wooden cult statue transported from Veii. Continue reading "In Praise of Juno"

In Praise of Tanit

by Rohase Piercy

Adorned Statue of the Goddess Tanit, 5-3rd century BCE from the Necropolis of Puig de Molins, Ibiza

Tanit, chief deity of the Phoenician colony of Carthage, is a Goddess surrounded by speculation and controversy.  For one thing, there are widely differing theories as to the meaning of her name: is it of Berber or Semitic origin?  If the latter, does it arise from the root for ‘serpent’, ‘lament’, or ‘count/assign’? Is it merely co-incidental that Ta-nit means ‘Land of Neith’ in Egyptian?

Was she originally a separate Goddess from Phoenician Astarte, or simply her Punic equivalent?  Is her Canaanite counterpart Asherah or Anat?  Why did the Romans equate her with Juno Coelestis?  Then there is the debate surrounding the burial site unearthed at Carthage, apparently dedicated to Tanit and her consort Baal Hammon, containing the cremated remains of over twenty thousand children, mostly foetuses or new-born babies.  Were these children sacrificed to appease the Gods, as horrified Roman and Hebrew sources claimed? Or were they stillbirths, miscarriages and neo-natal deaths returned to the care of a loving Mother Goddess?

Continue reading "In Praise of Tanit"

In Praise of Hera

by Rohase Piercy

“I sing of golden-throned Hera, whom Rhea bore.
Queen of the Immortals is she, surpassing all in beauty”

hera_bustThus begins the Homeric Hymn to Hera, Queen of the Olympian Gods and protectress of women throughout every stage of life;1and yet not only do we know relatively little about her cult in Ancient Greece, but she is often overlooked by modern Pagans, being far surpassed in popularity amongst reconstructuralists by Aphrodite, Artemis and Athena. The reason for this is neatly encapsulated in the second stanza of the hymn: “She is sister and wife of loud-thundering Zeus”.

Feminist scholars have pointed out that Hera’s alliance to the patriarchal Thunder-God – a husband who by most accounts forced himself upon her, taking refuge in her bosom in the shape of a frightened cuckoo before revealing his true form2  has done her no favours, subjugating her to the male deity and distancing her from her origins as an aspect of the all-powerful Mother Goddess. Whilst acknowledging the truth of this, I do not think it is the whole story, nor do I think it necessary to take Hera out of the Olympian context in order to connect with her as a modern Pagan woman.  This is the Goddess who describes herself as ‘The Eldest Daughter of Time’ (Chronos), and whose mother’s name, Rhea, means ‘flow’, or ‘course’.   Of all deities, she should be able to adapt and thrive in any age and context, patriarchal or otherwise. Continue reading "In Praise of Hera"