The Darker Angel of Our Nature
Venus suggests flowing robes, laughter like music, and a sensuous ease with life. She's feminine receptivity, beauty and grace, unless you're talking to an astrologer, for whom Venus the planet is primarily a symbol of love and money. But are these associations accurate? What is our real experience of the Venus archetype? And how does this correlate with her position in our charts? This wondering inspired a two-year research project (see part one of "Venus Revisited" last issue), in which I compared Venus placements of 426 individuals against their responses to an in-depth questionnaire probing into all facets of the Venus experience-love, relationship, aesthetic tastes, creativity, finances, sex, sorrows, and happiness. In survey after survey, it was apparent that along with the harmonious, loving and sensuous Venus, there was another one, who was edgier, more conflicted, even divisive.
It is this other Venus, as in the old Flip Wilson joke, "The devil made me do it," who inspires our more questionable choices, ones that evoke pain and confusion, even as they irrevocably alter our lives. She is the darker angel of our nature, full of desire, craving excitement over peace, urging us to fling ourselves off the precipice of the status quo. If this other Venus were a romance novel heroine, her story might begin with the following paragraph (written by a 5th house Venus in Pisces):
Something indescribable has taken over her senses. With pain running deep in her heart, the warmth from the hearth is inappropriate-too warm and cozy. Outside the howling wind churns the ocean waves from a soft waltz to a passionate aggressive tango. The urge to be violently caressed by the wind overtakes her. She grabs her thickest shawl and heads for the edge of the cliff, where the wind is at full intensity. The waves are reaching for her, spraying her face with salt water. The wind tugs at her clothing and hair-in turmoil-just like her heart. Still, there is so much beauty to be seen, even now.
Astrologers don't need to search among the asteroids or at the far reaches of the solar system to locate this more tumultuous goddess. As feminine receptivity, Venus signifies our capacity to open to life. This brings delight, but also vulnerability, penetration and pain, and even that, by Venus standards can be beautiful. The goddess who craves pleasure and passion loves variety and intensity, which can be exhilarating. It's also disruptive, inspiring choices that shame or humiliate us, sending us to lovers who aren't good for us, into orgies of consumption we later regret, stimulating jealousy, inadequacy, and fear of loss. As an archetype, Venus maps our route to happiness. But she refuses to take only safe, well-lit roads. By her very nature, she keeps turning us into the dark.
Ancient sky-watching cultures understood this, observing her cycle with a mixture of reverence, awe, and fear. Being our closest and brightest star, her influence was undeniable. To the Mayans, Sumerians, Babylonians, and many indigenous cultures, her cycle demonstrated shamanic initiation and change, as she transformed from morning star to evening star and back again, disappearing into the underworld in between. (1) The modern view of Venus as promising constant joy reveals our disconnection from the sky's demonstration of process.
The two most frequent complaints people make about their Venus is that she hasn't brought them everlasting love or piles of money. But these are astrologer promises. I've never read a Venus/Aphrodite myth that shows the goddess counting piles of money or declaring her fidelity to one true love. She is sexy and creative, also clever, curious, and promiscuous. When we want only "happy Venus," we tend to re-enact Pandora's myth. As Hesiod tells it, Pandora was the first woman. She was commissioned by Zeus as a punishment for Prometheus' thievery. Shaped by Hephaestus from water and earth, and blessed with gifts from every deity, including desire and grace from Aphrodite, Pandora arrived with a jar she'd been told not to open. Curiosity got the better of her and she peered under the lid, letting all the evils of the world pour out. We may get a similar surprise, when we expect to steal only goodies from Venus. We inevitably release her shadow.
The misogyny in Hesiod's tale is unmistakable. Feminists see it as one more parry in the patriarchy's war against the feminine. Hesiod likely revised an earlier goddess myth, in which the first woman arrived bearing a jar that held not evil, but the feminine mysteries, powers associated with intuition, dream, and prophecy, as well as the unconscious and the fertile unknown. Early fertility goddesses were the matrix from which all life sprang. But in patriarchal pantheons, they were stripped of their fullness and splintered into multiple goddesses with lesser powers. To understand how Venus operates in our charts, we must reconnect her to her matriarchal lineage. We must see her as a force of nature. She's a scented flower enticing lovers and bees-also an earthquake or hurricane. She's not always safe. Her fertility can inspire artistic creativity, a sexual union producing a child, or an experience that shocks and forces us to grow. As feminine receptivity, Venus takes us to our edge, the brink of growth; the pain she brings is generative. As psychologist and author Ginette Paris writes, Aphrodite ".is not just a source of joy, but a path of inner knowledge." (2) In other words, she brings more than love and money. She immerses us in life.
Which dark roads a person's Venus might travel can be suggested by her sign or house. But the most articulate placements are often the aspects to Venus-the conjunctions, squares, oppositions, trines and sextiles from other planets. I'll share some quotes and stories, but first I must confess my method. If you have little concern for technical precision, skip ahead. I've always been persnickety about tight orbs, having been trained by my teacher to dial charts down into minor aspects, harmonics, and midpoints. Most days I even sniff in disapproval at the "alphabet" system that draws equivalents between signs, houses, and planets. (3) I started my Venus research with elaborate worksheets to calibrate each chart's technical features. This would have been fine if I'd gotten the 30-50 participants I'd expected, but with 426, it became overwhelming. I had no choice but to shift toward intuitive techniques (which of course are more Venusian).
Working intuitively means listening. I read respondent questionnaires and listened for patterns, then observed how the words did or didn't match the charts. I gathered all the Sagittarian Venuses, or the 8th house Venus group, and listened for similarities among them. Important too was what people didn't say. Indeed more than one astrology chestnut dissolved this way. One of the first to go was "jealousy is a Venus Scorpio affliction" (or an 8th house/Pluto influence). When over half my respondents admitted to problems with jealousy, it confirmed this was a generic Venusian trait; it's not only silly, but inaccurate to limit it to just one sign. Most exciting was hearing that there were indeed similarities that bound each Venus group and made them different from the others. The Venuses in Aquarius related similar aspirations for love, unlike what the Venuses in Cancer shared. Even after twenty years of practicing astrology, I'm always thrilled and a little surprised that astrology works!
Yet reading the questionnaires also brought significant moments of confusion, when I would hear the unmistakable note of a planet that was not connected to the Venus tree. A Venus conjunct Mars would complain more than once of despair or low self esteem and I'd expect to see Saturn waving his gloomy hand over Venus or Mars, but it wasn't there. Even though my questions were focused on Venus matters, there was nothing to prevent the Sun or Moon or anything else from responding. And sometimes that's where the Saturn aspect would be hiding. But anything important in a chart is said at least three times. As I raised my eyes and brought them into softer focus, a whole new network of Venusian relationships came into view. Often enough, a planet would influence Venus through an aspect whose orb was just over ten degrees or even wider. Sometimes an outer planet whose only connection with Venus was occupying the same sign, twenty degrees away, would still figure in that person's Venus story. These wide and sloppy aspects often spoke louder than the tight minor ones, like quintiles or biquintiles with a one degree orb.
I've met astrologers who interpret aspects by sign rather than orb (as in reading any Taurus planet in square to any Aquarius planet, no matter their degrees). This practice used to make me roll my eyes. I did not expect that studying so many charts in this focused way would relax my astrological precision, but it has. Perhaps it's just the technician's fantasy that gods stay within discrete numerical boundaries. Real lives are messy. Archetypal edges mix and blur. I'm now more comfortable with the alphabet system. I've seen how vigorously it works. A 9th house Venus can indeed be like a Venus in Sagittarius or in aspect to Jupiter. I've also found that the particular nature of an aspect-whether it's a square, trine, or sesquiquadrate-can have less significance than is usually given it. In real life experience, a square may not be so different from an inconjunct. What matters is that the planets are connected. Among respondents whose Venus aspected the Moon, I heard similar themes, whether the planets were bound by conjunction, trine, or opposition. How well the planets worked seemed more to do with a person's background and willingness to grow-a mystery which often trumps the math.
I've had sensual desires even before knowing what sex was. When I was only four, my mother took me to the beach. Once she was settled she noticed that my attention had gone to an incredibly handsome man who was sunbathing close to us. I suddenly got up and walked straight to this man, kneeled beside him, stroked him gently from his upper thigh to his knee and said, "Hmmm, you smell like a man." My mother was horrified. I've always had boys on my mind, but funnily enough "sex" scared me. I was a virgin until the age of 19. . My relationships have been a disaster. As I have been on my own since the age of 16, I think I have confused love and security, settling for second best because I did not feel I could do better. . I feel very self-conscious about my body, not keen on being naked. I don't want to feel shame, but I do; however, when aroused and during sex, this disappears. I no longer fear not being perfect. My inner goddess takes over and it feels wonderful to be unclothed. (Venus square the Moon)
The dark side of the Moon/Venus aspect goes all the way back to Mount Olympus, where the divided Feminine began quarrelling with itself. Competition between Hera, queen of heaven, and sex goddess Aphrodite sparked not only the Trojan War, but an unconscious friction between nurture and sex, or the security of relationships and their lusty pleasure. We can understand a mother's horror at her daughter's early sexual awakening, but the reaction may inspire a child to turn against herself, feeling guilty for sexual feelings or learning to compromise desire for safe commitments. Many with this aspect battle against their bodies: "It's not perfect," "It's disgusting," or "It reminds me of my mother's." They tell stories of feeling criticized by their mother or embarrassed by their mother's own flirtatiousness. They are on the front lines of what is a larger cultural dilemma, where the divided feminine flares as eating disorders, the inability of women to share power with other women, or men confusing wives with mothers who they must sneak out on with their mistresses.
Many with Moon/Venus feel a sweet connection with their mothers, even if the relationship is sometimes fractious. A positive feminine influence-a mother, aunt, or grandmother who's able to contain both Hera and Aphrodite with ease-can help to give this aspect a beautiful expression: confident, creative, sensitive, sensuous, and nurturing. The soul assignment of Venus/Moon is to reunite the Feminine into its original fullness. Loving the body and reclaiming its sacredness can be a significant step toward integrating these two feminine potencies. This was an important discovery for one Moon/Venus square in my study:
I learned a valuable lesson while on a summer vacation in Brazil when I was 17. In Rio they walk practically naked on the streets. Men wear those tiny Speedo bathing suits and women of all shapes, ages, and sizes wear bikinis or 2-piece tangas, and no one takes a second look at them. They feel so free with their bodies. I reflected on that. After the initial shock, something clicked inside about the beauty of the human body and the different shapes it takes. If someone else doesn't like it, he or she can just look the other way.
Venus awakens in the body naturally, sometimes before the culturally accepted age, but when she's in aspect to Pluto, there may be an unwanted initiation. It would be irresponsible and incorrect to say that every Venus/Pluto connection indicates sexual abuse. Yet much like Pluto abducting Persephone into the underworld, there may be a premature and unwanted awareness of sex, too big for innocence to fully process. This is another aspect that can carry shame with the body, or a sense of being damaged in some way. With Venus/Pluto, it's almost as if a layer of protection is missing, intensifying the vulnerability and raising the voltage of emotions. There is great strength with this aspect, but initially its sensitivity can inspire extremes of either shutting Venus down or throwing her to the wolves.
What did I learn about love before I was five? That I was unlovable, unwanted. Somehow sex was tangled up with that, but I don't fully understand how. I was sexually abused at nine, but I just know it wasn't the first time and I have strange fragments of memories. I learned that sex could buy me an illusion of love. Love is still very difficult to trust even after years of therapy. Once, despite my better judgment, I got involved with a chilling man (intensely possessive and very dishonest) quite quickly after I parted with my ex-husband. Our sexual relationship was both passionate and sometimes dark (involving S&M) which was both exciting, disturbing, and at times, towards the end, frightening. I was the masochist in the relationship in lots of ways, including sexually. After the relationship ended (which was intensely painful, because I had grown to "love"/need him?) I decided to get my head sorted out! (Venus opposite Pluto)
When one journeys in the underworld, it helps to have a guide. A painful Venus/Pluto experience can be the catalyst for seeking counseling, joining support groups, or attending workshops leading to greater insight into self and others, identifying deeper motivations and unconscious patterns. Some of the most dramatically painful stories of loss, abuse, and betrayal were told by the Venus/Plutos in my study, yet they also showed a survivor's strength and keen self-awareness. It is helpful to remember that in the myth, Persephone becomes a Queen. We could say she learns to protect her treasures carefully, revealing them to only those worthy of her trust. With mastery, she inspires others with her emotional authenticity, her readiness to meet the unknown, her skill in clearing the past, releasing relationships that no longer serve.
Astrology books raise high expectations for Venus/Jupiter aspects. The conjunction is considered the most fortunate of all planetary combinations, bringing abundance, luck, and popularity. The dark side of this and other Venus/Jupiter combinations is usually reported as over-indulgence-too much eating, drinking, or spending-or overbearing judgment and hypocrisy. Among the Venus/Jupiters in my study and even those I've known, I've not often seen these high or low extremes. Philandering Zeus and promiscuous Aphrodite did have reputations for indulgence. But in other myths, they were father and daughter, with Zeus raising Aphrodite to deity status, alternately protecting her or reigning her in. It was this "raising up" quality that I most consistently heard in the Venus/Jupiters in my study. There was an aspiration for journeying, geographical and spiritual, and delight in experiences that brought freedom, new perspectives, and a connection to truth. There was often good fortune through teachers. In the following story from a woman with Venus trine Jupiter, one can almost see Zeus looking out for his daughter, calling her to journey to his own wife's temple. Maybe it was Zeus masquerading as the guard who allowed her in to receive an important message.
Years ago I took a trip to Greece and was drawn to see the Heraion, a temple dedicated to the Goddess Hera. This is a desolate site on the Argive plane. I could not understand why I was driven to see it. The day was scorching hot but I had to go. Nothing would stop me. When I got to the site, the guard, who said he seldom got visitors, was so happy to see me that he let me in for free. I climbed onto the temple wall and sat on it, staring out at the mountains in the distance. Insects buzzed in the dry grasses and the sun beat down, but I was oblivious to everything, mesmerized by the heat and the quiet. Suddenly, a very clear, decisive, imperious statement entered my consciousness. "How long to you think you can live a lie?" it asked. It shocked me. This was nothing like my inner voice. The question was repeated and I knew immediately what it was about. I had been living in a very difficult and unhappy marriage for many years. The experience was killing my spirit. I began to cry softly, then the tears came with great heaving sobs. I finally pulled myself together and returned to my hotel. When I realized what had happened I was overwhelmed. The archetype of the great goddess had come to life, there in the Heraion. When I returned to the US, I asked for a divorce and moved to live and work in Greece. (Venus trine Jupiter)
Whatever the planetary aspect, if we see our difficult Venus experiences as our unique path to growth, we too are raised up, no longer victims or screw-ups. People can be quite judgmental about their own love failures. Perhaps it is Venus who journeys through us, to reach the fullness of her bliss again and again. When she takes us through the underworld, if we do not fall into unconsciousness or remain there, if we keep our traveling, we may have moments when we know what the gods know.
I had always experienced my Venus opposite Neptune as heartbreak, falling in love with all the wrong men-longing for a deeper connection I could never find with the men I was attracted to, loving men who didn't love me back or had other women in their lives. The "horoscope of heartbreak" I used to call it, until I hit 48 years old. I met an artist who connected with me instantly. We've been together 3 years. As a portrait artist, he has painted both of my daughters, and a nude of me which is now hanging in an art gallery. How's that for Venus at work!
"YOUR VENUS UNLEASHED",