Happy International Women’s Day!
Like the Greeks before them, the ancient Romans could sense the spirit in a grove of trees or in a geographic region, or within a person, a family, or a marriage. In men, they referred to this spirit as the animus, or the genius, and they honored it with statues, rites, poems, and songs. The genius felt in the presence of a woman was called juno, after the great goddess. Juno was the protector of women throughout their lives: in their youth, during their time as brides, and then as they moved into motherhood. Every woman had her juno that she celebrated the same day as her birthday.
Although it’s unusual to turn to the Romans for inspiration for our spirituality today, the notion that every woman has her juno is a rich one. It could help us honor and respect femininity, gaining perspective on what it means to be a woman. We could distinguish between the feminine spirit in each woman and her individual personality. Because whether you’re male or female, when you stand next to a woman, you can sense the presence of a spirit. The quality of this spirit may vary somewhat, because women have moments that are businesslike, maternal, artistic, girlish, sexy, or an interesting blend of all of these.
As I get older, I become painfully aware that I am becoming a fossil. So it may only be old-fashioned of me, but I always stand when a woman enters a room and hold doors open for women. When I’m in a crowd, I assist women in any way I can, even though the other men look at me as though I were in colonial dress. When I learned about the Roman juno, I felt I had discovered the basis for my behavior, because I do feel the difference between a person and her feminine presence.
I realize that trying to resurrect the Roman idea of juno for our modern era could be awkward. Women might interpret it as an attack on their individualism and equality. I don’t see it that way. I see it as dipping into the power they have from their divine feminine essence—as a deep, spiritual form of feminism.
There could be another problem with my effort to reintroduce juno. In therapy sessions, I have worked with men who have dreams in which they crawl on the floor, debased, at the feet of a large, impressive woman on a throne. I don’t want to overdo this honor to the juno. I don’t recommend being a poor slob of a man groveling before the great feminine.
I have always believed that women will be equal and free only when the feminine itself, the juno spirit, is acknowledged and given real honor. I suspect that men have more trouble with the juno than with women. They are generally afraid of its power, perhaps because they, too, have lost touch with the genius that lives within them.
I live with two strong, radiant, gifted women: my wife and my daughter. I have no trouble seeing the juno in them and realizing how precious it is. They are both artists and have hung their paintings of women in our house. I think these paintings depict the juno more than the person, and I appreciate having the juno isolated and given a special presence in our house. The Mona Lisa and Mary Cassatt’s women are certainly junos.
Consider, as part of your spiritual practice, honoring the life-affirming, intensely feminine spirit that lives in you. And men, you can honor this, too. Feel free to spread your cloak over the mud so the woman doesn’t have to walk in it, because, though she is equal in every respect, she bears the juno, a bountiful, loving, regal, and potent spirit that is good for us all.
Author of the bestselling Care of the Soul and many other books, Thomas Moore is currently exploring the spirituality of games and play, through golf retreats in the U.S. and England.