VENUS: Queen of Heaven and Earth
Part 1 – Descent and Return
Note: this article refers to the last period of retrogradation. Specific information about the next one, starting October 2010, will be posted nearer the time. To get an idea of how the cycle work in general, read on .......
After reaching her maximum brilliance on February 20th 2009, Venus will gradually dim her light, sink lower and lower in the evening sky and eventually disappear. and return as the Morning Star.
Let’s explore the symbolism of this journey.
The planet Venus has long been associated with the Greek goddess, Aphrodite, goddess of love and passion, beauty and allure. Her archetype has become something of a sterotype, however, one which suggests the worship of ‘The Beautiful’, meaning physical appearance. Human feelings such as vanity, timidity and self-doubt, when focussed on our physical good looks, or lack of them as we see it, have filled the coffers of those in the cosmetic industry, the fashionistas, the women’s magazines, and an endless stream of other commercial enterprises which prey upon our need to feel admired, special and beautiful. Needless to say, the beauty which comes from inner radiance is not honoured. Neither it is recognised that the stereotype of Venus does not do justice to the complex and rounded archetype which Aphrodite becomes on deeper study. This article explores the meaning and process of the planet Venus, seen through its connection with the ancient Sumerian goddess called Inanna.
In ancient Sumeria the planet we call Venus was revered as a personification of the Goddess Inanna, hailed as 'Queen of Heaven and Earth'. The myth of Inanna is a poignant story of the soul maturing from personal to transpersonal Love, through self-confrontation and loss. It is an allegory of the visible movements of the planet, and also describes the meaning of Venus in astrology. To marvel at the splendour of Venus poised graciously in the night sky, radiating increasing brilliance before disappearing from view, is indeed to contemplate the poignancy of transience, and the inevitability of loss. We need then to arise early to greet her re-appearance...if we are not watchful in the pre-dawn hours we may not notice her gentle morning return, and fear that she has gone forever.
The planet Venus in astrology is about value, of self and others. It concerns what we find worthwhile, what we value, appreciate and seek to attract into our lives; following from that, it also signifies relationship, and represents the energy of Eros or connection, attraction and pleasure, harmony, beauty and joy. This occurs in relationship to others, but it is an inner experience too. Venus addresses how we handle losing these precious experiences and qualities, and how we might defend against allowing them at all. Every 18 months or so, Venus begins a retrograde cycle, where she appears to reverse direction, disappears from view, makes a conjunction with the Sun, reappears and then turns direct. During these times we are given the opportunity to plumb the depths of our relationships, finish unfinished business, release the past and renew our capacity for love. Love matures in synch with this cycle.
The story of Inanna (1)
Inanna has plucked a single tree from the chaotic floodwaters which mark the beginning of times. Day and night she cares for it, in a lonely vigil, longing for her consort and her throne. Inanna duly becomes Queen, but only after she has received her spiritual heritage from her father in the form of qualities needed to fulfil her role. She also has to stand firm against her father when he tried to take back his gift to her. Eventually Inanna is introduced to Dumuzi, the humble young shepherd who will be her husband. At first she rejects him, but relents as he proudly pleads his own case. There follows an ecstatic union of the young Queen and the shepherd, who thus becomes god-king and takes the throne beside her. After this, Dumuzi exhorts Inanna ‘Let me go, my sister, let me go …..’
Inanna departs for the Underworld to witness the funeral rites for Gugulanna, the 'Bull of Heaven', the husband of her sister, Erishkigel. This is poignant enactment of the phase in any relationship when the grief of the loss of the ideal sets in after the first flush of union. A perilous time of separation indeed, when the ‘demons’ of blame and recrimination stalk the unwary who seek to hold on to the condition of being merged with another. Inanna’s descent represent the supreme wisdom of the feminine journey – she goes down to the place of grief, accepting the mourning that inevitably goes with the loss of our illusions about someone, and indeed about ourselves, in relationship. Inanna is stopped at each one of the seven gates leading to Erishkigel's abode, and must surrender the symbols of her worldly power. Although she protests, she also surrenders. She is told, again and again ‘Hush, Inanna, the ways of the Underworld are perfect and must not be questioned.’ Her crown, necklace, breastplate, measuring rod and finally her robe must all go until she stands naked before her distraught sister, who is of course also her own ‘other self’.
Here is the Gemini story – of two-ness, of meeting the shadow, of the impossibility of sustaining the first flush of ideal union. Inanna’s descent through the seven gates also symbolizes energy moving down through the seven major chakras in a process of purification. Our worldly accomplishments are a hindrance on this inner journey and our attachment to them must be relinquished. At the base chakra, the root, lies our deepest sense of despair, for here resides the densest illusion of our spiritual isolation, and all our incomplete grieving. It is the place of inconsolability, where we hold to familiar grief rather than release ourselves into the Void of Unknowing. Erishkigel fixes her 'Eye of Death' on Inanna. She is killed and hung on a peg to die, and to rot.
Meanwhile, Inanna has taken the precaution of asking her maidservant to send help if she does not return. The alarm is raised. Enki, the god of Wisdom and the Waters comes to her aid, with little creatures made from the dirt under his finger-nails. They slip unnoticed into the Underworld and approach Erishkigel, to witness and echo her groaning and her lamentations, affirming her suffering. The call and response of their compassion eventually softens her heart, and she offers them a gift in exchange for their kindness. Immediately, they request the body of Inanna, upon which they sprinkle the waters of life.
And behold - Inanna lives again!
Return and Redemption
As Inanna prepares to leave the Underworld, she is stopped by the Judges of the Underworld, and told that in order to be free to continue her life in the upper world, she must send a substitute. She exits surrounded by a cloud of demons, looking around in wild horror. Who shall she condemn to the Underworld? Her children? Her faithful maidservant? She cannot. Then she sees her former consort Dumuzi occupying the throne which he had gained through their union. He has been oblivious to her suffering. Inanna then fixes her 'Eye of Death' on him. Dumuzi flees into the desert, but eventually the demons catch up with him and he succumbs to his fate. Dumuzi is no more. A great wail goes up as Inanna mourns the loss of her husband by her own doing. Then Inanna sees Dumuzi's sister, beside herself with grief, and her heart is touched. She may not reverse her choice, but she decrees that although Dumuzi will spend half the year in the Underworld, he may return to Earth for the remaining half.
The cycle of destruction is broken, vengeance is tamed and forgiveness can begin. The purified energy rises and Inanna becomes Queen of Heaven, ennobled by suffering and loss. The final line of this exquisite poem is ‘Holy Erishkigel! Great is Thy Name!’ We are reminded that the mysteries of transformation, of death and resurrection, are the necessary counterpoint to the brightness of the daylight world. New life begins in darkness ……..
Astrology mirrors the processes within the soul ….
Inanna-Venus reached her highest position in the sky on January 14th 2009, and gradually descends to the horizon until she disappears on March 24th 2009. Venus has been constantly visible as Hesperus, or the evening star, since July 2008; around February 20th 2009 she will reach maximum brilliance. Even the pollution in the skies over big cities do not obscure her scintillating light…. So don’t miss the chance to see this beautiful sight. Stop awhile, and remind yourself of what Venus stands for. Indeed, it is thought by some researchers that Venus was the ‘Star of the Magi’ herald of the miraculous birth . Venus will then turn retrograde on March 6th, 2009. This resonates with the beginning of Inanna's descent into the Underworld. A previous ‘superior’ or ‘exterior’ conjunction with the Sun occurred on June 9th, 2008, in the sign of Gemini. Note that this is the ‘half-way point’ between the two ‘transits’ of Venus, in 2004 and 2012, as mentioned below. In the ‘transits’ Venus crosses in front of the Sun, but in 2008, she crossed behind the Sun. This ‘veiling’ continues the theme of new beginnings occurring in the dark, like a pregnancy, or a bulb planted deep in the soil. We can see the conjunction as Inanna, in union with her consort Dumuzi. They conjoin … She is behind his light, and must make an intense journey of soul to be returned to her own power.
Gemini is a zodiacal sign within which the search for the soul-mate is very strongly focalised. The feeling of incompleteness is often acute, and great expectations are placed on relationships. These are not always fulfilled, but the journey of relationship in the sign of Gemini is very intense. For this is the sign of the Heavenly Twins, where a mirror of the soul is sought out in the eyes of another. When this reflection proves clouded, a long journey of internalising this search-light begins. Sometimes the relationship survives, and sometimes it doesn’t. Richard Wagner, composer of some of the most powerful operas in the entire Western repertoire, was a Gemini, and the theme of love-agony runs through all of his works, culminating in his final work ‘Die Meistersingers’. This opera, which is set of the eve of the Feast of St John, just after the Sun passes out of the sign of Gemini each year, is a truly perfect alchemical ‘opus’: where all the people end up paired together and, significantly, there are two couples involved as a quaternity. This is a worthy metaphor to aspire to within an alchemical relationship … that there is always the ‘other’, both within and without both people, to consider.
There are approximately seven weeks from the highest point of Venus in the sky to when she turns retrograde, like Inanna entering the Underworld through the seven gates or chakras. Likewise, she is visible for approximately seven months or seven New Moons. We see a holographic repeat of this occurring: from the retrograde point on March 6th there are 21 days (= 3x7) until the retrograde conjunction with the Sun on March 27th. This is called the ‘Interior Conjunction’, and symbolizes the meeting with Erishkigel, an ego-death occurring in the depth realms as we encounter that which obscures our inner light. The few days after this conjunction are precious, as Inanna is hung on the peg and Erishkigel's distress is gently witnessed by the mourners. This is the time to 'sit with' ourselves and sense the movements within our own soul, engaging as little as possible with external relationships. Even if there are responsibilities towards partners or children, it is possible to keep our energy more contained than usual. We bear witness to our own soul until Venus reappears from early April, as Phosphorus, or Lucifer, the Light Bearer or Morning Star. Inanna is revived by the waters of life, and once again shines her light on all.
Bull of Heaven – the last conjunction
If we consider the visual and physical position of Venus, relative to the background in the starry constellations, her last conjunction with the Sun (June 9th 2008, a 'superior' conjunction) occurred between the horns of the Bull, just above its head. We are reminded of the story of Gugulanna, the ‘Bull of Heaven’. At the crown chakra, universal energy descends, is ‘stepped down’ in voltage, and is experienced as unitive states of Being which nourish the soul and translate into appropriate action. Astronomically, this is mirrored by the amazing fact that the Gemini Sun-Venus conjunction (whether or not it is a transit, as described below) occurs exactly where the Galactic Meridian intersects with the Ecliptic. The Galactic Meridian connects the North and South Poles of our Galaxy(2) , the Milky Way; the Ecliptic is the path of the planets around the Sun. Like Russian dolls, the Earth is within the Solar System, which in turn nestles within the Galaxy, just as our individuality finds meaning in relation to that which is greater than us. This zone of the ecliptic serves to remind us of the multidimensionality of our life.
Lamb of God – the next conjunction
In zodiac terms, the forthcoming movement of Venus occurs between the signs of Pisces and Aries, the last and first signs. (February 2009, for four months.) What a fertile image for moving between endings and beginnings! Venus turns Retrograde on March 6th 2009 in mid-Aries, symbolising the tonality of the Spiritual Warrior who gives up external and also internal battles in favour of embracing, incorporating and nourishing the various movements within the soul, for the sake of healing and wholeness. To relinquish this battle takes great courage and strength. We are turning swords into ploughshares, indeed, but tilling the soil of the soul. The petulant and raging war-god, Mars, is transformed into the Bodhisattva, who works tirelessly for the benefit of all beings, choosing compassion and understanding over divisiveness and combativeness. Note that in the Greek mythology, Venus-Aphrodite was said to be the only goddess who could control Mars, the irascible God of War, who was also a bad loser, by all accounts! In this intriguing sequence, from Aries back to Pisces, Venus may start out at a disadvantage, in the sign of the war-god, so ‘ruled’ by him, but in the descent, she plumbs the depths all the way to her exaltation. (The planet Venus is said to be ‘exalted’ in Pisces).
Note also the dramatisation of the Inanna’s story which this sequence embodies: Aries is the sign of the Ram, but in the celestial iconography down the ages if often portrayed as a lamb. Inanna’s beloved is the shepherd, Dumuzi, and in the turning Retrograde of Venus in Aries, we can see a portrayal of her turning away from Dumuzi, at his request, in order to pursue the next stage of her initiation – the journey to meet Erishkigel. The Interior Conjunction, the deepest part of the cycle, occurs right at the end of the sign of Pisces, in the very last degree. Something stops the Ram in its tracks, charging as he was towards the Spring Equinox where the Sun crosses the Celestial Equator, marking the beginning of the Tropical Zodiac. The primary Yang Force, the Fire of Daylight, was turned back to retrace its steps. So far back that it dipped into the healing waters of the Ocean of Pisces. Indeed, perhaps this is what he was looking for all along. Venus was around this area of the zodiac at the very beginning of February, so you might want to check back and see whether there were any events of significance which touched your heart around this time. It is possible that a ‘prelude’ occurred, a theme that you may be working with over the next few months.
We need not strive for this journey, or manipulate in any way. It happens all by itself. We merely need to observe, accompany and bear witness, like the little creatures who softened the heart of Erishkigel and paved the way for Inanna’s resurrection. There may be deep processes we are asked to engage with. We may know by this story, that if we persist even through the pain of a battle we cannot give up, we will eventually reach the blessed sweet waters of healing …
Working with the Cycle
The cycle of Venus offers an experience of deeper access to the soul and the currents of feeling that connect us to people, past and present. Our karmic and destinal ties, tasks and responsibilities are clarified, as we are made aware of any ‘unfinished business’ that needs completing. We are challenged by the surfacing of old grudges and pains, and we are introduced to what needs healing and purifying within ourselves. The need for forgiveness presents itself here. This applies most particularly to the area of our relationships but also, most importantly, includes our relationship with ourselves. In the core of our being, there is unity, love and truth, but this can be obscured by the density of the ego-patterns which have developed around it.
Like Inanna descending into the Underworld, as Venus descends the sky, we prepare ourselves for our own ‘descent’ to connect more deeply with our inner world. By ‘tracking’ the process of ‘descent and return’, paying particular attention to the few days leading up to the Interior Conjunction (March 27th) and on until Venus reappears as the Morning Star (March 31st) we allow our soul to move ‘in synch’ with these cosmic cycle which support the opening, healing and nourishing of the heart. It is not difficult to discern the possibility that the gods, goddesses and demons of the mythologies of the world’s peoples arose directly from the inner experience of these cycles by those endowed with the bardic spirit of the seer. This ‘tracking’ is a very individual experience which each person will do in their own way.
Some activities which support this process are:
- Paying attention to your dreams
- Working in your journal, engaging in imaginal dialogue with others, where the relationship needs some healing
- Choose a ‘routine’ of meditating every day, even for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, if it is difficult for you to get longer periods. A meditative approach is important, as a means of rendering transparent the residue of our emotions and feelings, as well as gently opening up enough space for them to arise to be released.
- Plan to visit places which you feel as sacred. A local well, stream, church, cathedral, synagogue, mosque … or a pile of rocks, a seaside cove … wherever ‘calls’ you
- Look out your favourite books which support your process. Perhaps a sacred text which inspires you …Invest in some meditational audio material such as the work of Stephen Levine.
- Locate any areas where you still hold grudges and lack forgiveness. See if you might be ready to begin working towards forgiveness, but don’t force any issues. See Stephen Levine’s audio ‘Forgiving Me, Forgiving You’ for a powerful and compassionate beginning on this path.
- Consider some gentle de-toxing through fasting, cutting out dense foods, sauna or steam baths, Ayurvedic massage, etc. Do get advice from your health practitioner on this.
- Even if you are too busy and involved with others to be able to take time out of your schedule to do this, you can always keep the ‘entrainment’ with the cycle running in the background of your mind.The main period to try and get some quality alone-time would be somewhere around the period from March 23rd, say, until April 2nd 2009.
- Arrange with a trusted friend that you speak together, even on the phone, and allow each other an agreed amount of totally uninterrupted speaking time within which to be able to reflect aloud. (You can do this either with or without offering feedback to one another.)
The orbital pattern of Venus
Because the orbit of Venus is very regular she goes retrograde once every 18-19 months, and every eight years returns to almost exactly the same place in the zodiac, at the same time of year, to repeat the cycle. So each time a Retrogradation occurs, we are connected back to the same time of year, exactly 8, 16, 24, 32 and 40 years ago, etc. The unfinished business from those times may gather and return to consciousness, as we are helped to let go, forgive and move on. If you carefully observe what occurs within your inner world, and is perhaps also mirrored in the outer, you will perhaps pick a thread of meaning which has connections to one or more of the previous 8-yearly points. This recognition can be quite astonishing should this particular movement be activating your horoscope in a central way.
For example, one person detected a theme which connected all the previous points, and had to do with the fear of being rejected, or being actually rejected. In tracking back to the very first one, she realised that this was the very month in which her father had died. Being so young, in her struggle to account for her father’s absence, she had reached the ‘conclusion’ that he must have gone because he didn’t like her. She was able to collect this bewildered fragment of herself, and move on. Tracking this cycle helps us ‘join up the dots’ as regards significant emotional themes which recur in our life….
And this awareness begins a transformation as we gently bear witness,
like the little mourners in the story of Inanna.
These retrograde loops are times of profound inner movement, and precious times of healing. Moreover, Venus spends 40 days retrograde, mirroring the 40 weeks of human gestation and the archetypal 40 days in the wilderness. There are also roughly 9 months between the different conjunctions of Venus and the Sun. The retrograde zones, when plotted around the zodiac circle, make a 5-pointed star, which symbolizes the power of the mind. Indeed, intentions drawn during these times are infused with great significance. Every time Venus is retrograde we get an opportunity to review unconscious intentions we may have unwittingly set in motion, fuelled by suffering and misunderstanding. We may then re-set them in the light of consciousness, made wiser by accepting both love and loss.
(1) See ‘Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: her stories and hymns from Sumer’ by Samuel Kramer and Diane Wolkstein, Harper and Row, NY, 1983. The story was rediscovered from the cuneiform script on stone tablets, which were pieced together from broken fragments stored in various museums world-wide, broken and restored.
(2) In the constellations of Coma Berenices (N) and Sculptor (S) respectively.
© Melanie Reinhart. No portion of this article may be reproduced or stored on any medium without my permission. Thanks.