Venus Journeys to the Underworld
|Star of Heaven by Edward Robert Hughes|
My guest Laura Perkins takes up the tale of Venus where she left off last week. But things are about to take a fascinatingly sinister turn. Indeed, the goddess undergoes a sex change and turns nasty. To revisit Laura’s previous piece click here.
First we need to get some technical stuff out of the way. What does Venus do during the 384 days that it takes her to make one circuit of the Zodiac? How is she sometimes the Morning Star and sometimes the Evening Star?
During her Morning Star phase, Venus rises ahead of the Sun, and is visible on the eastern horizon just before sunrise – and she sets before the Sun.As the Morning Star, she starts off retrograde but eventually turns direct and catches up with the Sun (becoming invisible to the eye during the conjunction). Then when she moves ahead of the Sun in the Zodiac, she becomes the Evening Star, visible on the western horizon after sunset.
So for example if you have Sun in Pisces and Venus in Aquarius, you were probably born when Venus was a Morning Star. If on the other hand, you have Pisces Sun and Venus conjunction, she was invisible when you were born. You could call this a dark Venus. And if you have Pisces Sun and Aries Venus, she was probably the Evening Star.
It is this 584-day period, between one heliacal rising and the next, that the Mayans used to calculate a part of their calendar.
The pre-Colombian Mayan culture of Central America had a detailed understanding of the cycles of the planet Venus.. The retrograde portion of Venus’ cycle took on mythological significance to the Mayan culture; one of those myths is contained in the Popol Vuh, the Book of the People.
Venus is invisible during her conjunction with the Sun. This disappearance is equated in Mayan mythology with a journey to the Underworld. The hero twins Hunahpu (Venus Lord) and Xbalanque (Jaguar Sun) journey to the Underworld land of Xibalba, where they play a ball game with the Lords of Death, among other adventures. Hunahpu is decapitated and brought back to life. Eventually the twins defeat the Lords of Death and rise up into the heavens.
The Mayans believed that when Venus comes out of the Underworld at her heliacal rising, the status quo becomes unstable and regimes might topple. This was an auspicious time to go to war.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Mayans were not the only people to find a connection between Venus and the Underworld.
From medieval Britain, the story of Gawain and the Green Knight has some a startling resemblances to the journey of the Mayan hero twins. The 14th century manuscript tells us that Gawain bore a pentangle on his shield. Anywhere you see the pentangle, that is a symbol for Venus. And on the inside of Gawain’s shield is an image of the Virgin Mary. Mary is traditionally associated with Venus, and is often depicted with a five-pointed star. For a previous OA post on this click here.
At the start of the tale, Sir Gawain beheads the Green Knight, who immediately comes back to life and demands a rematch. Gawain then must make a journey to the Green Chapel to meet a similar fate. At Michaelmas (the beginning of Libra’s month), Gawain prepares for his journey.
Gawain actually starts out on his journey in the Underworld month of Scorpio. Eventually, after many significant adventures, which I analyze further in 5: The Venus Pentagram*, Gawain reaches the Green Chapel. It is an underworld place: a green earthwork mound, like those frequently found at prehistoric British sites. Here, Gawain must submit to a threatened beheading, which he escapes. He then can return to his everyday world and feast with the other knights.
Sir Gawain is not the only man to visit an underground temple. The singer Tannhaüser in Richard Wagner’s opera (which is a retelling of a medieval German tale), makes a similar journey to the Venusberg (or mons veneris in Latin). His visit to the goddess in her underground realm is part of a longer story that deals with the issue of developing a sense of proportion in relationships, and the right relationship of sex to love.
|The fin de siecle illustrator Aubrey Beardsley never|
completed his retelling of the Tannhauser legend
In Greek mythology, when Ouranos, the sky god, imprisons the children of Gaia, the earth goddess, within Gaia’s own womb, Kronos (Saturn) cuts off the genitals of Ouranos, which fall into the Sea, laden with sperm. (For more on this story click here.)
Aphrodite (Venus) is then born from the sea, just as Gaia’s children, many of whom are monsters, are freed from the Underworld.If you think of the birth of Venus as a symbol of the planet’s heliacal rising as the Morning Star, then that means the monsters are coming out of Gaia’s womb at the heliacal rising. Recall that this was a time that the Mayans believed was unstable. A sudden release of monsters from the Underworld would tend to do that!
|The Evening Star|
While Venus is not herself the agent of this release of Gaia’s children, she emerges as a result of it. Kronos, Father Time, is the actual agent. Is not a planetary cycle one of the many ways to measure time? Ask the Mayans on that one!
|The Morning Star|
by Burne Jones
The next Venus retrograde period begins on May 15, 2012. She forms a rare occultation (parallel conjunction) with the Sun on June 8, 2012. This may or may not be part of the reason the Mayans supposedly chose to end their calendar in 2012. In any case, a few days later, she is reborn from the Underworld at her heliacal rising. It will be interesting to watch what happens at that time.
Venus, during her solar conjunction, takes on different qualities than those we normally associate with the Goddess of Love and Beauty. As the journey to the Underworld indicates, Venus has a darker quality during that time. During the retrograde, we must confront the torments of love and the excesses of the search for beauty, so that we can put our psyches back into a proper Libran balance and find a sense of proportion again, when Venus goes direct.
During the next retrograde period, just keep in mind that when Venus is retrograde and conjuncts the Sun, she grapples with her dark side, is tested by it, integrates it into her nature, and emerges ready to do battle. We are called upon to do the same during this time, as we review our search for love, beauty, money, and whatever else we value.
*You can find more about the Venus pentagram and associated mythology in my mini book, 5: The Venus Pentagram, available on Smashwords.
© Laura Perkins 2011