Saturday, June 9, 2018

Juno/Hera and the Asterion Plant

Juno by Rembrandt (1665)
The month of June is named for the Roman Goddess Juno, known as Hera in Greek mythology.

Hera's devotees wove garlands made from the asterion plant to adorn her statues, according to the historian Pausanias. Asterion ("little star") was one of the ancient names for cannabis, according to the first century C.E. Greek physician Dioscorides, writes scholar Maugerite Rigoglioso in The Cult of Divine Birth in Ancient Greece. 

While others (Kerenyi) have identified the asterion as "a sort of aster," Rigoglioso counters that the aster's dominant feature, the flower, is not mentioned by Pausanias in describing the asterion plant. Also, the asterion was "twined to create garlands in accord with the widespread use of cannabis for rope-making in the Greek and Roman worlds." (Butrica 2002, "The Medical use of cannabis among the Greeks and Romans," Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics 2(2): 51-70).

Writings at least as early as the 5th century BCE indicate that the Greeks knew cannabis to be a substance capable of engendering a non-ordinary state of consciousness. The Greek god Dionysis is known today as an alcoholic, but some modern scholars (e.g. Jonathon Ott) think what we call Greek wines used alcohol mainly to make tinctures of psychoactive plants. Some of these infusions are thought to contain hemp, dubbed "potammaugis" by Democritus (c.a. 460 b.c.) and possibly why we call it "pot" to this day.


A statue of Hera/Juno (Getty Museum)
Considering that many ancient myths have Gods conceiving children with mortal women (Heracles, Perseus, Theseus, etc.) Rigoglioso posits that groups of priestly women in ancient Greece attempted virgin births as a spiritual discipline, and that "the child of this conception was considered to be of a divine nature and the focus of worship." Asterion (meaning star) may have been a reference to the star realms where Hera's devotees traveled, for spiritual awakening or for divine conception.

This could be the origin of the virgin birth in the Bible giving life to the divine child Jesus; also to the Holy Trinity, of father, son and "Holy Spirit" represented by a dove. Rigoglioso thinks the dove was a symbol of parthenogenic birth, and it was one of Hera's sacred birds. Doves were found in her temples at Argos and Delos, and one statue depicts Hera with wings.

"I contend that the proper altered state of consciousness may have been generated through the use of psychotropic compounds," Rigoglioso said at a Matriarchal Politics conference in May 2011, in St. Gallen, Switzerland. "I find evidence of the use of such sacred medicines by the oracular priestesses of Delphi and the priestesses of Hera at Argos, where...cannabis was a plant associated with the mysteries."

The star shows up in other myths involving ancient females and cannabis. In ancient Egyptian, Sheba means “star” or “seven,” a number associated with Seshat, “She of the Seven Points” who has a seven-pointed leaf in her headdress. And in a relief from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) showing an Asherah Tree surrounded by two male figures and a winged, dove-like figure overhead.

In 392 AD, the Romans outlawed Eleusis and the Delphic oracle. Greek knowledge passed into the Islamic world, where scholars kept it alive until the Western universities rediscovered it between the 10th and 12th centuries.

Hera comes down to us today as a jealous goddess, irate at her the many affairs of her husband Zeus (Jupiter) by which mortal women bore him children. By some myths, Hera has children without Zeus's aid; in one version she is impregnated by a head of lettuce.

It seems no accident that modern screen goddess and possible Tokin' Woman Marilyn Monroe was born on the first of June, as was Alanis Morisette, an admitted pot smoker who played God onscreen. 

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