VENUS: Queen of Heaven and Earth

Part I - Descent and Return

After reaching maximum brilliance on September 27th 2010, Venus will gradually dim her light, sink lower and lower in the evening sky and eventually disappear, returning on November 3rd 2010 as the Morning Star.

Let's explore the symbolism of this journey, and how we might relate to it in a personal way

 

The planet Venus has long been associated with the Greek goddess, Aphrodite, goddess of love and passion, beauty and allure. Over time, however, her archetype has become something of a stereotype. 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 of our 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 is revealed as we look deeper.  

 

Here we explore 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; it also signifies relationship, and represents the energy of Eros or connection, attraction and pleasure, harmony, beauty and joy. Venus also 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, which represents the ‘house-cleaning of the heart’.

 

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, keeping 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 him when he tries to take back his gifts. 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 sister, let me go …..’

 

The Descent

 

Having taken leave of her worldly duties, 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 for loss of the ideal sets in after the first flush of union. A perilous time of separation follows, when the ‘demons’ of blame and recrimination stalk the unwary who seek to hold on to the condition of being merged with another, in primal bliss. Inanna’s descent represents 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, or indeed about ourselves.

 

Inanna must pause at each one of the seven gates leading to Erishkigel's abode, in order to surrender the symbols of her worldly power. Although she protests, she does also surrender. 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 archetypal Gemini story – of two-ness, of meeting the shadow, of the impossibility of sustaining forever the  rarefied energy generated by the meeting of two souls, and the intensity of a sexual union which includes this. 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 may hold to familiar grief rather than release ourselves into the Void of Unknowing which would follow, but which also precedes renewal.

 

The Encounter

 

Erishkigel fixes her 'Eye of Death' on Inanna, who is thereby killed and hung on a peg to rot. Meanwhile, Inanna has taken the precaution of asking her maidservant to send help if she does not return. The alarm is duly raised, and Enki, the god of Wisdom and the Waters comes to her aid, with little creatures made from the dirt from under his fingernails. They slip unnoticed into the Underworld and approach Erishkigel, to witness and echo her groaning and her lamentations, patiently affirming her suffering. The call and response of their compassion eventually softens Erishkigel’s heart, and she enquires of them what gift she may offer 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.

 

Inanna 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 dark mysteries of transformation, of death and resurrection, are the necessary counterpoint to the brightness of the daylight world. New life begins in darkness, and we see how it is that .....

 

Astrology mirrors the processes within the soul

 

Inanna-Venus reached her highest position in the sky on August 20th, 2010, and gradually descends to the horizon until she disappears on October 24th, 2010. Venus has been constantly visible as Hesperus, or the evening star, since February 22, 2010. Around September 27th (Evening Star) and again on December 2nd, 2010 (Morning Star), Venus will reach maximum brilliance. Even the pollution in the skies over big cities does 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’.

 

This year, Venus turns retrograde on October 8th, and this point in the cycle resonates with the beginning of Inanna's descent into the Underworld, as described above. A previous conjunction with the Sun occurred on January 11th, 2010, in the sign of Capricorn, which we can see as the union with her consort Dumuzi. This was preparing both of them for their position on the throne of the kingdom. The earthy sign of Capricorn is ruled by Saturn, and does indeed confront us with the tasks the world asks of us.

 

Inanna-Venus then rose to her highest position in the sky on August 20th, gradually descending to the horizon until she disappears on October 24th. Venus has been visible as the Evening Star since February 2010, and around the end of September will have reached maximum brilliance. There are approximately 7 weeks from her highest point in the sky (August) to when she turns retrograde, like Inanna entering the Underworld through the 7 gates or chakras. Likewise, she is visible for approximately 7 months or 7 New Moons. We see a holographic repeat of this occurring: from the Retrograde point on October 8th, there are 21 days (=3x7) until the retrograde conjunction with the Sun on October 29th.

 

The time around this conjunction symbolizes the meeting with Erishkigel, an ego-death occurring in the depth realms of the soul as we encounter  that which obscures our inner light. The days after this conjunction are precious. In the myth, Inanna is hung on the peg and the mourners gently witness Erishkigel’s distress. In the astrological cycle, 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 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. Venus reappears on November 3rd, 2010 at 01.10am GMT, although may not easily be visible until a few days later, depending on the clarity of the physical horizon around your location.

 

Scorpio and Samhain

 

This conjunction occurs near Halloween, the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when the veil between the worlds was said to be very thin, and when the unquiet spirits of the departed might roam. Communing with our ancestral line is favoured, promoting understanding of our place in the flow of human continuity. Viewed psychologically, the deeper realms of the unconscious are more accessible than usual, and the 'spirits' of our own held suffering may be quieted through inner contact and compassion. On November 3rd, at 01.10am GMT, Venus reappears as the Morning Star. Inanna is revived by the waters of life.

 

The Waters of Soul

 

Indeed, this year the sequence takes place as Venus traverses the watery sign of Scorpio, whose soul process locates the inner areas of frozen or stagnant feeling (water) and seeks to transform this potential toxicity through compassionate insight rather than battling with it ‘out there'. Finally, on November 18th, Venus turns direct again, and Inanna exits the Underworld, followed by the cloud of demons. This period of time, too, is potent in its symbolism, for we may be shown where forgiveness is needed, and how we have created our own suffering. Bitterness and hatred may also surface as we journey on. It is wise to realize that the demons of others are also on the loose, so those around us may be more reactive than usual. We take care not to be careless with our own actions and speech.

 

 

Venus signifies relationship

and represents

the energy 

of Eros

 

We need not strive to ‘accomplish’ this journey, or manipulate ourselves in any way. The process happens all by itself. We merely need to prepare, 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 an inner  battle we can neither give up nor win, we will eventually be blessed with the sweet waters of healing . This year, the period of Retrogradation occurs with numerous other planets also in the water signs, so this element predominates in the symbolism.

 

Go to water, look at water, spend ages in the bath, visit the sea-side, look at pictures of water, listen to ocean sounds, paint, photograph, imagine …….

 

The Garment of the Beloved

 

The signs of the Tropical Zodiac, as used in the West, are not directly aligned with the constellational patterns which share their names. This phenomenon is brought about by the precession of the Equinoxes, and means that there is yet another layer of symbolism we can consider. The actual location of this conjunction, as can be seen in the picture below, is just on the hem of the garment of the Virgin. In the Sufi tradition, the symbol of the ‘Garment of the Beloved’ is often found in the devotional poetry so characteristic of that path.  The Lover, or the spiritual aspirant, seeks Union with the Beloved, or the Divine, and is immersed in ecstasy when merely touching the hem of the sacred garment. This evokes the qualities of awe, gratitude and humility, as well as a willingness to serve the Beloved. This profound image yields many layers of meaning on further contemplation, paralleling the passion and intensity of the sign of Scorpio, in which this conjunction occurs in October. We are transformed in the flames of our desire for that which cannot be, and we learn to love that which is.

 

Working with the Venus 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 become aware of any ‘unfinished business’ that needs completing.  Challenged as we are by the surfacing of old grudges and pains, we are also 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 with others but also, most importantly, includes our relationship with ourselves. In the core of our being, there is unity, love, truth, harmony and beauty … but the density of the ego-patterns which have coagulated around our luminous core can obscure these precious qualities from view. Then we perpetually project them on to others, whom we ‘fall in love with’. Then we feel we must have, hold, possess, control and own the other. It feels like the integrity of our soul depends on the other. And indeed, we fall.  The mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan posed the question of what it would be like to ‘rise’ in love instead of to ‘fall’ in love. Like Inanna descending into the Underworld, as Venus descends in the sky, we do not ‘fall’. Rather, we prepare ourselves for our own ‘descent’ to connect more deeply with our inner world., so we may rise again.

 

By ‘tracking’ the process of ‘descent and return’, paying particular attention to the few days leading up to the Interior Conjunction (October 29th ) and on until Venus reappears as the Morning Star (November 3rd ) we allow our soul to move in harmony with this cosmic cycle which supports the opening, healing and nourishing of the heart.  This ‘tracking’ is a very individual experience which each person will do in their own way.   To experience this is to understand that some of the major archetypal motifs found in the mythology of the world’s people, their gods, goddesses and demons,  have arisen directly in the imagination of  those endowed with the bardic spirit of the seer.

 

Even if you are too busy and involved with others to be able to take time out of your schedule, you can always keep ‘entrained’ with the cycle, in the background of your awareness. The main period to try and get some quality alone-time would be somewhere around the period from October 24th – November 4th. If you are currently working with some powerful relationship issues, you might want to dedicate the entire period to your inner work around this theme. (September 3rd - December 20th, 2010)

 

Here are some activities which support the process ... and do add your own.

 

 

  • Paying attention to your dreams
  • Working in your journal, engaging in imaginal dialogue with others, where the relationship needs some healing
  • Choosing 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.
  • Visiting 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
  • Looking 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 http://livingdharma.co.uk/catalog/index.php?manufacturers_id=11
  • Locating 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.
  • Some de-toxing through fasting, cutting out dense foods, taking a sauna or steam bath, having an Ayurvedic massage, etc. Be gentle and do get advice from your health practitioner on this.
  • 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 feedback to one another.)

 

The orbital pattern of Venus - the 8-year return

 

Because the orbit of Venus is very regular, she goes retrograde once every 18-19 months, and every 8 years returns to almost exactly the same place at the same time of year to repeat the cycle. So each time a Retrogradation occurs, we are connected back to the same period 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 detect a thread of meaning which has connections to one or more of the previous 8-years-back points.  

 

This recognition can be quite astonishing, should this particular movement be activating your horoscope. For example, one person detected a very marked 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’t like her. 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 past suffering and misunderstanding. We may then re-set them in the light of consciousness, made wiser by accepting both love and loss.

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ENDNOTES

 

(1) See ‘Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: her stories and hymns from Sumerby 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.