Recovering the Garden of Venus
by Darby Costello
In the early sixth century a bishop from Padua wrote an epithalamium – a marriage poem – for a bride and groom. In this poem, Cupid went to see his beautiful mother, Venus, in her lush garden, complaining that their ‘old empire’ had been lost, and now ‘cold virginity’ possessed the world. ‘Arise! Shake off your sleep!’ he tells her. But she replies that she will not leave her garden yet; ‘We shall be all the stronger for our rest. Let the nations learn that a goddess grows in power when no one thinks of her. (1)
In our world today it is not ‘cold virginity’ that has driven Venus into her hidden garden, but our ongoing anxiety and our terrible over-stretched busy-ness. And perhaps, underneath this, a loss of reverence for the invisible powers that the gods and goddesses used to personify. Today we ask each other and/or our parents and leaders to personify the gods and goddesses we have lost. Not only do relationships suffer but also our human capacity to take pleasure, soul nourishing pleasure, in the beauty of the world as it is. The longing for things to be different, people to be different, ourselves to be different, seems to be a disease of the time we live in.
In my consultation practice as an astrologer I have sought to understand this sense of collective distress in myself and in others and to bring it into consciousness rather than be submerged by the communal free floating anxiety, which most often gets projected onto one or another person, group or community. We are in such a precarious, changing world and it feels so unsafe to so many people. A lot of the work I do with clients involves noticing where these distressed, anxious, busy, thoughts, images and feelings invade the private gardens of our lives. Do we pay appropriate attention to the beauty that is Venus’ gift as it shows in our charts? Do we relate personally to the dimension that is her realm in ways that further joy and beauty in our lives and in the world around us? And, is this a thing worth doing, or is it selfish in a world full of such confusion and distress?
To address these questions, it is worth returning to the deities associated with the planet Venus – when living deities were still associated with the planets! Four thousand years ago the Mesopotamians already knew that the morning and evening star were the same. At different times the goddesses Inanna and Ishtar were the planet’s deities.
In the star lore of our early history, these goddesses were supremely powerful and everything and everyone responded to them. This hymn to Inanna is over 3,000 years old:
At the end of the day, the Radiant Star, the Great Light that fills the sky,
The Lady of the Evening appears in the heavens.
The people in all the lands lift their eyes to her.
The hymn goes on to say that the men purified themselves and women cleansed themselves; the ox and the sheep and all living creatures of the steppe, gardens, orchards, reeds and trees, oceans and heavens responded to her commands and revered her. Old women prepared a feast for her, and:
The Lady refreshes herself in the land.
There is great joy in Sumer.
The young man makes love with his beloved. (2)
Much later, in the eighth century B.C.E., when Hesiod wrote of Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of Love and the most direct ancestress of our astrological Venus, he told us that she was born of a most brutal murder: her father Ouranus had been violently dismembered and killed by his son, Kronos, at the instigation of his mother, Gaia. When the foam of Ouranus’ severed members floated over the sea to the shore, Aphrodite (‘foam-born’), came into being. Yet, this extraordinarily dark beginning gave birth to something wonderful:
W H Goss 7 ¼ inches, 18.4 c.m. c1870
White foam surrounded the immortal flesh,
And in it grew a girl… The goddess came forth, lovely much revered…
Her name is Aphrodite among men
Eros is her companion; fair Desire
Followed her from the first…
She has this honour and received this power:
Fond murmuring of girls, and smiles, and tricks,
And sweet delight, and friendliness, and charm. (3)
This goddess had absorbed characteristics from the earlier Mesopotamian star deities, Inanna and Ishtar, and even from Oriental goddesses, but here in Greece Aphrodite became something unique: she who arose out of the swirling sea with its foaming memory of patricide, was ‘no longer a cosmic power but a something new and particular, ‘the goddess of rapture.’ (4)
Venus Anadymomène, Cornelis de Vos 1585-1651 Prado, Madrid
It was from this time, through Aphrodite, that the beauty that illuminates the natural attraction that living beings have for each other was given shape and form and a life of its own. In the Greek way of teasing apart the strands of the cosmos, so that each part had unique character and life, Aphrodite was separated out and given her own world – the moment of love’s beauty. She embodied the ‘rapture of the love embrace.’ (5) This Aphrodite is the timeless dimension of pleasure that is experienced when things that are potentially creative encounter each other. Living things leap to each other because of her. When two beings (humans, cows, fish, or even plants) had the potentiality for creation, she was there. In the beauty of it, she was there. She was the delight of it.
A few centuries later, when the Greeks were developing new and complex patterns for understanding the nature of their universe, the philosopher/poet Empedocles stated that ‘Love’ and ‘Strife’ were the two central principles in creation. He recounted how the earth had anchored in ‘the perfect harbours of Aphrodite’ and becoming mixed with various things, had produced blood and flesh. (6) He said that Aphrodite had fit together all the mortal forms and colours that arose from the mingling of Fire, Earth, Air and Water. (7) This Aphrodite was a queen and she made men have thoughts of love and inclinations towards peace. She was implanted in mortals and was called ‘joy’, and things were ‘united in love by Aphrodite.’ (8) What a wonderful image this is!
These moments of joy are fleeting – as the beauty of the morning and evening star are fleeting, just before the day begins and just before night returns. The Greeks noted these moments of transient beauty as sacred, between the harsh realities of the day and the dark dangers of the night. Aphrodite was embodied in these moments of wonder, fleeting, fading, even disappearing for long periods between her dusk and dawn epiphanies. She was transient, ephemeral – a moment’s delight.
Aphrodite was also associated with the civilising impulse. (9) When raw impulses and emotions were fashioned into art, she was there too. She is not only procreative, but in the joy of the creative instinct too; the re-creation of creation.
In true Greek fashion, her world was dramatized in poetry and theatre for centuries. From the poets, Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripedes, we learn of her terrible side. We hear of her terrible capacty for revenge when she is not honoured and we recognize how horrible it is when love goes wrong. Because we suffer so when beauty and joy fade, from Plato we learn how it may be possible to turn the longing for the physically beautiful towards the longing for eternal beauty. Later, with the Roman poets, particularly Horace and Ovid, we learn of the pain of the terrible sadness that arises when Venus disappears from a relationship. Loving and loss seem to be an intrinsic part of her domain.
Two thousand years ago, when the astrology that is the ancestor of our astrology today was formulated, Venus kept the characteristics of the earlier mythological deities, but she lost the full magic of her power. She was ‘benefic,’ but the ‘lesser benefic’ to Jupiter, who was the ‘greater benefic.’ Sometimes, when ruling alone, she was given great power for good, but often she was reduced to ruling over love and cosmetics and causing more trouble than delight most of the time.
We might wonder has this has influenced our attitudes over the centuries to love, beauty and joy. Venus does now seem to be hiding away in her garden, though she did emerge powerfully again for a time in the medieval period and then in the Italian Renaissance. How wonderful if those of us who wished to could lure her out again! How wonderful if we could honour her in such a way that she could bring her wondrous beauty right into the heart of our lives as well as into our astrology.
We each have ways of cultiving her gifts so they may last our lifetime. But do we want to? And, how can we develop the capacity to bear the sort of loss that goes along with her gifts? We no longer worship the star deities, but as astrologers we must honour the dimensions that each planet represents. What does it mean to honour Venus? It means to honour the transient beauty in life; the sunrise and sunset; the cut flowers; the lost love, the beauty of things as they pass away. To receive her gifts fully, it means learning how to let go of the things we love as they disappear. To be receptive to the beauty in other people and in the world around us, it means facing the losses we experience full on, and learning how to wait for another season of another blooming.
We seem to be in a culture spiralling out of control. Many of us feel like victims of forces beyond our individual power and, as we no longer honour the gods and goddesses we once believed governed our lives – even the lives and decisions of our rulers – we feel helpless. We were brought up in the 20th century to believe we had autonomy over our own lives, and now we may be suffering some loss of that belief. From the Saturn-Uranus-Neptune conjunction in 1989, a new social archetype came into being, a new world as yet unformed. Many of us are foundering in the chaos and confusion that accompanies all transitions – and this one involves all cultures on the earth. As astrologers we wish to bring understanding and wisdom to our clients and to ourselves in this chaotic, culturally transitional time (Uranus in Pisces in mutual reception with Neptune in Aquarius – the spark of individuality in each of us feeling overwhelmed and submerged in the waters of the unfathomable and at this point chaotic cultural changes.)
C.G. Jung has this to say:
The individual who is not anchored in God can offer no resistance on his own resources to the physical and moral blandishments of the world. For this he needs the evidence of inner, transcendent experience which alone can protect him from the otherwise inevitable submersion in the mass. (10)
There are many ways to lose oneself and many ways to find oneself again. There are many ways to experience a connection with that which is eternal: a divine presence at our core. There are many ways to find ‘evidence of inner, transcendent experience’ which can return us to the beauty and joy of creation – that which makes it worth the journey. For astrologers, recovering Venus is one of the ways. Contemplating where and how and under what specific conditions Venus appears in our lives comes from contemplating her position in our natal chart, and by progression and transit. Understanding our individual capacity to receive, to allow the good the true and the beautiful in life brings her out of her hidden garden and into our own. As astrologers we can look at Venus in our individual charts with the goal of seeking ways to bring her out of her hidden garden, into the soul’s imaginal world, so that we each may find our own unique access to that garden. Through contemplating our Venus, in the midst of chaos and anxiety, we might spend more time with her, the guardian of our soul’s capacity for joy in beauty and love in our own lives; the beauty that is fleeting but ever recurring, eternal but ever disappearing, returning again once we have learned how to lose that which is already gone. Those of us who do this bring something graceful – bring grace – to themselves and to those around them: great joy in the land. Is there anything more wonderful in our brief and precious lives?
1. Lewis, Allegory, 1979, p. 78 citing Ennodius, Carm. Lib.I, iv, lines 1-4 (ed. Hartel in Corp. Script. Ecclesiast. Vol. vi, pp. 29-52).
2. ‘The Lady of the Evening’ in Kramer, Samuel Noah and Diane Wolkstein’s, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, (New York: Harper and Rowe, 1983), p. 101.
3. Hesiod, Theogany, pp. 192-206, p. 29.
4. Otto, Homeric Gods, p. 92.
5. Otto, Homeric Gods, p. 95.
6. Empedocles, Frag. 98.
7. ‘Presocratic Fragments and Testimonials’ © James Fieser. This text file is adapted from passages in John Burnet’s Early Greek Philosophy, 3rd edition, (London: A & C Black Ltd., 1920 ), [hereafter Empedocles, Fragments], Frag. 71. [accessed 2 February 2006]
8. Empedocles, Frag. 22.
9. For Aphrodite’s civilising influence see Paris, Meditations, pp. 16-19; and Friederich, Aphrodite, pp. 90-91.
10. Jung, C.G., CW 10: The Undiscovered Self, p 258.
Empedocles, ‘Presocratic Fragments and Testimonials’ © James Fieser. This text file is adapted from passages in John Burnet’s Early Greek Philosophy, 3rd edition, (London: A & C Black Ltd., 1920 ), at http://kr.geocities.com/hyun_sinnayo/presoc.htm#Empedocles
Friedrich, Paul, The Meaning of Aphrodite (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978).
Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica: The Theogony, II, 961, at http://omacl.org/Hesiod/theogony.html
Kramer, Samuel Noah and Diane Wolkstein’s, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, ‘The Lady of the Evening’ (New York: Harper and Rowe, 1983), p. 101.
Lewis, C.S., The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press.  1986).
Otto, Walter, F., Aphrodite, transl. Moses Hadas, (New York: Pantheon Books, Ltd., 1954).
Paris, Ginette, Pagan Meditations, translated from the French by Gwendolyn Moore, (Dallas, Texas: Spring Publications, Inc., 1986).
Copyright Darby Costello. All rights reserved.