Venus Journeys to the Underworld

Friday October 7th 2011

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.

In Aztec culture, the Morning Star
became the plumed serpent
god Quetzalcoatl.

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

With a packed 9th house ruled by Pisces, Laura Perkins is part questing knight and part siren, with a Jupiter in Gemini element of trickster.
She’s a recovering techie geek, and an emerging writer and artist. Visit her website at



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  1. Christina says:

    Laura, thanks for this incredibly thought-provoking piece. I have read and re-read it, thinking about it’s implications.

    I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that the mesoamericans saw Venus as a war planet and it’s wonderful how you’ve managed to find some parallels with our Western Venus stories.

  2. Christina, I tried to post a comment earlier, but I wasn’t sure if it worked.

    I noticed years ago that Gawain wore the pentangle on his shield, and new that was related to Venus, but I couldn’t quite figure out how, until I recently read the Gawain poem and the Popol Vuh, one after the other. The similarities were striking.

  3. Christina says:

    It does seem to be sex versus sports though. By which I mean that the Hero Twins play the game of life and death when they go to the underworld, whereas Gawain and Tannhauser encounter seductive women. The journey to the green mound is a – not very disguised metaphor – for sex.

    All the journeys are coming of age though.

    We haven’t even touched on Innana’s journey to the underworld in the Near Eastern myths.

    I’m also interested in the Libra to Scorpio movement. Clearly the other underlying theme is the seasons. The death of fertility while Gawain is in the underworld and its rebirth in the spring.

    This also relates to ideas about human sacrifice. If I recall correctly, in the Golden Bough, Frazier suggests that a youth might have been sacrificed to make the fields fertile. This would fit with the decapitation theme.

    Then of course there is the decapitating of the corn or maize. I’m thinking now of John Barleycorn.

    Like I said – incredible food for thought. And that’s not even talking about the astrology.

    What do you really think about 2012?

  4. Christina says:

    Just to explain: The Golden Bough was a book that compared magic and religion from all over the world. The quantity of material that Frazier dealt with was incredible. Even though it was written more than 100 years ago, it’s still an invaluable resource.

    Anyway, one of the myths that he thinks is especially important is the story of Venus and Adonis. He believes that Adonis is connected to agriculture and human sacrifice. (Also that he is a precursor of JC, but that is another post.)

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am have a Morning Venus in Pisces – I know now. What do you think that means?

  6. @anonymous – I haven’t given a lot of thought to Venus as Morning Star vs. Venus as Evening Star as it may differ in individual charts. I’ve focused more on the bigger picture of the Venus cycle and the mythology that goes along with it.

    Venus is exalted in Pisces, however, which means when Venus is in Pisces, it has a chance at the highest expression of that planet’s energy. If I had to sum Venus in Pisces up in one word, I would choose the word compassion. Venus in Pisces really has the potential to transcend the illusion of separateness that makes us look out for our own selfish interests and experience deep love for the whole world. However, as Pisces people know, this sign is also about sacrifice, so it doesn’t necessarily mean others will understand that. Pisces is also a highly creative sign, so this bodes well for any artistic or creative work you may be involved in.

    @Christina – Sorry I was away all weekend right after you posted this. The Occupy Wall Street protests are spreading to cities all over the USA. A good friend has been wanting me to go up to the protest in New York with him, but we hadn’t managed it yet. Now the protest has spread to Baltimore, however, so we spent most of the long weekend at the protest, playing improvisational music with whomever was there.

    The Gawain story and the story of Venus and Adonis are definitely seasonal based on a solar cycle, as well as being about Venus. Gawain’s story takes the traditional Celtic “year and a day.”

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