Expanding Feminism with Archetypes: Hestia vs. Hera

Recently I’ve been reading a book called Goddesses in Everywoman: A New Psychology of Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen. It’s an older book with a fair bit of binary language and a slight over-emphasis on literal application of archetypes to women’s lives, but it has clarified something for me that I’ve struggled with for quite some time.

I like to clean. I like to cook. I like to do a lot of things that might be associated with “typical women’s chores.”

At least, in the right circumstances I do. Sometimes I loathe it and feel boxed into the housewife category. Sometimes when I enjoy dusting or doing laundry, my feminist mind observes with cool disapproval.

I could sort of recognize that the times I enjoyed cleaning were different from when I felt trapped into cleaning, but it still felt like maybe I was caving to gender conditioning or expectations.

That all changed when I read Bolen’s descriptions of the goddess of the hearth vs. the goddess of marriage.

Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, is not a very prominent goddess. According to Bolen, she was honored in every house and temple by the central fire, but she was also pretty unassuming, preferring to sit back and take pleasure in the quiet maintenance of the hearth rather than running off on wild adventures like Artemis or seeking out trysts like Aphrodite.

Hera, the goddess of marriage, is a little more well-known as Zeus’ wife. She’s often portrayed as wildly jealous of Zeus’ affairs with other women but is also fiercely devoted to her role as wife. The convoluted issues of jealousy aside, Bolen describes her as being primarily driven by her union—the stereotypical fifties wife who promotes her husband’s career and doesn’t exactly have a lot of interests of her own.

Hestia and Hera both can be seen doing somewhat similar things sometimes, but for different reasons.

Hera is the type of goddess that would dust and clean because a clean home is a comfortable home for her man, the type of goddess that would probably throw a dinner party to help her husband get a promotion.

Hestia is the type of goddess that would dust and clean because it brings her joy and peace to be in a space that feels good. She would cook because she enjoys the act of preparing food.

I can identify very strongly with Hestia. I like beauty, cleanliness, and harmony around me. I enjoy doing the things that bring that to my surroundings. I know that even if I were single I would still do much of what I currently do in my marriage.

But I loathe being a housewife!

If I’m doing my own laundry, I’m happy as can be. If I’m doing someone else’s laundry, suddenly the task seems like an enormous burden, demeaning as well as time-consuming. If I am cooking dinner because I want to have yummy food that carries the magic of having been prepared by hand, I feel content and absorbed in the process. If I’m cooking a meal because I feel obligated to have dinner on the table when my partner comes home from work, I find the process overwhelming and depressing.

I was conditioned to be Hera, so I’m not entirely without that influence. I do find myself periodically running around trying to be the perfect housewife, and that’s when I really hate household chores.

Feminism has been key in helping me buck that obligatory mindset, but I didn’t quite realize initially that rejecting the notion that I need to clean and cook to “make a home” for my partner didn’t necessarily mean that I would want to stop doing home making things entirely.

To some extent, I think certain facets of feminism contribute to that. There’s a certain amount of judgment or shame that sometimes gets directed towards women who might actually want to be a housewife or carry the greater burden of chores in the home.

It’s not everywhere. There are also feminist circles that uphold the value that a woman should get to decide what she wants to do, even if that is doing things traditionally relegated to women. But it’s present enough that when the Hestia archetype would take hold and I found myself enjoying the process of organizing a closet, I would feel guilty, wondering if I was falling back into old conditioning.

I can see now that Hestia and Hera are vastly different motivating forces. The one chooses to “keep the hearth” because it is valuable in and of itself to her. She probably wouldn’t do it if it weren’t personally fulfilling because she isn’t driven by duty or public opinion.

The other chooses to “keep the hearth” because it contributes to what she thinks a wife should be.

Hestia does her thing for herself whereas Hera does her thing for her husband.

It’s such a subtle but important distinction.

Hestia is a natural part of my personality. Hera is not (though she might be for others). When I find myself driven by the conditioning of “should’s,” I embody the patriarchy’s mandate that I should want to be the housewife that I’ve been told I should be.

This is one area where I think feminism can grow–in helping women see the difference between doing what they choose to do for themselves vs. doing what they are expected to do by patriarchy.

Rejecting the imposition of Hera on me doesn’t mean that Hestia disappears. I can still feel called to keep my hearth for reasons that are authentic to me.

Doing Yoga with Artemis

I don’t typically work with a particular Goddess in my spiritual practice. Whether I’m meditating, doing a spell, or creating a ceremony to commemorate something, I’m the type of practitioner that always skips over the invocation of the goddess/god. Since I believe that my spirituality comes from within, not without, I don’t feel like a deity needs to be present for me to work.

I also don’t even believe in them in the literal sense that they are separate persons. I approach divine individuals as archetypes from which to draw inspiration, not as real personalities. I’m closer to an agnostic than a theist, with my definition of the Divine falling somewhere along the lines of the Doctor’s definition of time (the “big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey stuff”).

I was surprised, then, when I suddenly found my practice invaded by Artemis. I say invaded because I didn’t seek her out or decide to study her. She wasn’t even on my radar. As much as I love moon Goddesses, I’ve never paid an ounce of attention to Artemis because I like Diana more (shh, don’t tell Artemis I just said that!).

She invited herself in while I was reading an essay “Artemis: The Goddess Who Comes From Afar” by Christine Downing. It was one of several essays in Weaving Visions on the topic of naming the sacred, and I almost skipped over it.


I read it because I wanted to keep reading the chapters in succession rather than jumping around, a strange impulse considering I’d already jumped around in the book quite a bit. Through the tiniest glimpse into her love of chaos and her work as a midwife, she decided to take up residence in my life.

I felt her arrive and didn’t feel her leave when I finished the essay. When I finally realized she wouldn’t be leaving for a while, I began searching for more resources to help me understand what this Goddess may have to teach me. I figured I would learn from her the way I had learned from Inanna, by reading her mythology and some of the commentary on it . . . but Artemis had other plans.

As soon as I started to research her more, I felt as if she were laughing at me, mocking me for thinking that anything that had been written about her would be able to define or contain her.

Her energy felt like the energy of the Page of Wands, the energy that just said “Dive in and see what happens”. . . but I wanted the energy of the Knight of Pentacles, methodical and slow and entrenched in books. Such a fiercely independent energy was terrifying to me. It felt as though I would be shredded trying to keep up.

Still Artemis called, taunting my fear, enticing me to feel the intoxication of chaos.

So I put my books down, shut my computer, and pulled out my yoga mat.

Suddenly, Artemis wasn’t wild and intimidating anymore.

She was beside me, inside me—her strength flowing through me. The wild wasn’t wild like it seemed to be. It was almost peaceful in its activity.

Movement, action, feeling—these were her mediums of teaching. Her physical energy was surprisingly gentle in its unbridled way. Even though it felt like she could easily take off and drag me on a run through the wild, she stayed with my pace once I was willing to go along for the ride.

I’ve realized she’s not the type of Goddess that likes to come around for a chat and a cup of tea. Downing describes how Artemis assisted her in a symbolic birth. It’s strange that I would feel a connection to that aspect of Artemis since I neither have nor want children, yet Artemis’ arrival has been like the arrival of a midwife right as my soul goes into labor.

She’s also not one to coddle. She teaches where she lives, in the wild. As a guide, she’s willing to get lost with me, but she’s not going to read my compass for me. She doesn’t try to prevent me from scraping my knees. Falling is part of the process.

She asks, “Where does your strength lie?”

If I know, she tells me to use it. If I don’t, she tells me to find it.

Yet, she’s not unkind either. Her kindness lies in knowing that the process ends faster when the discomfort is embraced fully; fighting her lessons isn’t really fighting her but fighting my own spiritual birth pangs.

Artemis has already taught me much. She challenges me to reassess how I view independence and connection, and reminds me of the beauty of embracing chaos.

She has facilitated my return to physical exercise better than anything else since my injury. Whereas before, I practiced yoga limitedly as I struggled to regain my strength, now she guides me through full-length practices, teaching me to find the balance of pushing, but not pushing so far that I reinjure myself. The physical activity has brought back an aspect to meditation that I had forgotten was missing.

She’s not the type of Goddess I would have associated with a yogic practice, but I can feel that she’s the companion I need for the time being. I don’t know how long she plans to stay or what the main thrust of her teaching will be, so I will be doing yoga with Artemis until I birth this new aspect of my soul.

I may not have invoked the Goddess, but I’m sure as hell not going to snub her either. Agnostic though I may be, I’m honored and excited to have her in my life.