A bloomy pair of vermeil cheeks
Like Hebe’s in her ruddiest hours
A breath that softer music speaks
Than summer winds a-wooing flowers.
— George Darley (1795–1846)
We celebrate Spring! Capricious, juicy, unpredictable, sometimes stormy, sometimes gentle, we honor the Sacred Divine in the gifts of renewal, bright promise, youth, and especially the manifestation of the Triple Goddess in Her many forms as the Maiden.
The Goddess Hebe is a very ancient Maiden Goddess from pre-Hellenic Greece. According to Goddess scholar Patricia Monaghan, there is evidence that Hebe was the younger, Maiden aspect of the great Mother Goddess, Hera, who was the most important deity in pre-Hellenic Greece (that is, prior to the classical Greek period that was centered in Athenian culture). Her most ancient name was Ganymeda, and later in Rome, She was known as Juventas, which gives us our word, “juvenile.” Hebe was the divine cupbearer, bringing ambrosia and the nectar of immortal youth to the divinities of Olympus.
Patricia tells us, “The ‘downy one’ who represented spring’s young herbage, Hebe was reverenced with ivy cuttings at Her sanctuary in Phlius. The incarnation of all that is young and fresh, She could renew youth magically.”
Prisoners sought her intervention, for Her heart was tender and forgiving. Pausanias wrote, “Of the honors that the Phliasians pay to this Goddess, the greatest is the pardoning of supplicants….All those who seek sanctuary here receive full forgiveness, and prisoners, when set free, dedicate their fetters on the trees in the grove.”
Zeus gave Her in marriage to Hercules as a reward for his achievements. She later bore him two sons.
But just as the matriarchal pantheon gave way to the male-dominated hierarchy of Gods, with Hera becoming second fiddle to Zeus, Hebe lost Her role to a male Deity, the homosexual youth, Ganymede, whom Zeus kidnapped from the earth to bear the cup of immortal youth.
To justify Her demotion to a former mere mortal, Her story was changed to include an incident in which She clumsily tripped while serving the Olympians. Adding insult to injury, and sealing Her fate, as She fell, She accidentally exposed Her genitals, to the mortification of all present.
As the culture changed, women and Goddesses were relegated into more subservient roles. Thus, Hebe dwindled from being the Maiden form of the Great Goddess Herself, to a minor footnote in the legends of Classical Greek myth.
Yet She is not forgotten. Of Her, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I am no worshipper of Hygia, who was the daughter of that old herb-doctor Asclepius … but rather of Hebe … who had the power of restoring Gods and men to the vigour of youth. She was probably the only thoroughly sound-conditioned, healthy, and robust young lady that ever walked the globe, and whenever She came it was spring.”
Today, a lovely native New Zealand plant is named for her – Hebe speciosa. This evergreen shrub has purple and magenta blossoms and thick, succulent leaves. In the right conditions, it blooms year round, very much like the everlasting youth that is still the gift of the Maiden Goddess Hebe.