Athena or Aphrodite

Decoding the Dual Nature of Venus

The planet Venus, named for the Roman goddess of love and beauty, is second from the Sun and has an orbit of 224.7 Earth days. After the Moon, Venus is the brightest natural object in the night sky. Venus also has phases like the Moon. When visible, Venus reaches its maximum brightness shortly before sunrise, or shortly after sunset, and has been called morning star or evening star by many cultures. Venus rises before the Sun for about nine months and then disappears, reappearing at sunset for about nine months. The whole cycle takes 584 days.

Babylonian cuneiform texts describe observations of Venus thought to be nearly 4,000 years old. The Babylonians named the planet Ishtar; the Sumerians called her Inanna, the personification of womanhood, and goddess of love. She also had a dual role as a goddess of war, presiding over both birth and death. The ancient Egyptians calling the morning star Tioumoutiri and the evening star as Ouaiti. The ancient Greeks called the morning star Phosphoros, “bringer of light,” and the evening star was Hesperos, “star of the evening.” By about 325 BCE the Greeks had named the planet Aphrodite, after their goddess of love, who is similar to the Phoenician Astarte. In Iranian mythology, especially Persian, the planet corresponds to the goddess Anahita.

The Mayan calendar system is based in part on Venus. The Maya were aware of the planet’s synodic period and could compute it to within a hundredth part of a day. They called the morning star “awakener” and the evening star “false sun.” War was declared when Venus rose as morning star, but her appearance as evening star signaled the stoking of strong desires.

The Maasai people of Kenya call the planet Kileken and have an oral tradition called The Orphan Boy. The aboriginal Yolngu people of Northern Australia gather after sunset to wait for the rising of Venus, which they call Barnumbirr. As she approaches before dawn, she draws a rope of light attached to the earth, and along this rope, with the aid of a richly decorated “Morning Star Pole,” the people communicate with departed loved ones. In Indian Vedic astrology, Venus is known as Shukra in Sanskrit, meaning “clear, pure, or bright,” and is thought to affect wealth, pleasure, and reproduction. Modern Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures refer to Venus as the “metal star” based on the five elements of their systems.

Scholars of Neolithic and Bronze Age art and culture have realized that earlier peoples were more aligned with the stages of fertility represented by agricultural cycles. Time was experienced as circular, and Earth’s growing cycles were honored. They worshiped a Great Goddess who was perceived to have three aspects: Maiden, Mother, and Crone, representing the stages of a woman’s life. The maiden goddesses related to fertility and agriculture and symbolically corresponded to the new and waxing crescent moon. Mother goddesses were guardians of birth, children, home and hearth and related to the full moon. Crone, or elder, goddesses were aligned with the waning crescent moon and were keepers of wisdom and rites related to death. Many goddesses emerged from this ancient trinity.

Marija Gimbutas, professor of anthropology and author of Language of the Goddess, discovered an alphabet carved in bone and stone that told the story of this vastly ancient deity. The symbolic themes of this goddess are birds, serpents, and spirals. Gimbutas also identified a Lady of the Beasts, a bear goddess, and a snake goddess. She coined the term Bird Goddess in relation to Neolithic Europe. A few later examples are Aphrodite’s dove, Hera’s peacock, Athena’s owl, and the priestesses of Artemis who were beekeepers, another winged creature. In the Hindu pantheon Saraswati had a sacred swan.

Scholars of myth have noticed that the tenor of the stories changed about 4,000 years ago when aggressive nomadic herders, who worshipped vengeful sky gods, conquered peaceful agricultural settlements. The shift in Greek myths included an increasing glorification of war and a deteriorating value of agriculture and cyclical time. Goddesses were gradually diminished through marriage to gods, becoming a god’s daughter, or being turned into a demon. In the monotheistic religions, a solitary and authoritarian male god replaced once-powerful goddesses.

In astrological terms planets are said to “rule” certain signs. However, since there aren’t twelve planets, Venus and Mercury rule two signs each. Venus is said to rule Taurus and Libra, and Mercury is said to rule Gemini and Virgo. In the current astrological model, the planet Venus is the archetype of love and beauty, having dominion over romance, relationships, as well as the arts.

Taurus, the Bull, is the second sign of the zodiac and represents the fertile earth. Rites of spring and newborn animals, including the calves that have been spawned by bulls, are everywhere evident. Taurus is the sign of sprouting of new growth and seasonal flowering. It is a feminine sign and should probably be called Taurus, the Cow. Taurus energy is sensual, and life is structured for maximum comfort and pleasure.

Libra, the Scales, is the seventh zodiac sign. Libra’s nature is like the symbol, weighing, balancing, and taking the measure of everything. Libra weighs issues and concerns and is related to the principle of justice. Because balance also relates to harmony, the sign of Libra is thought to relate to balance in relationships, negotiating contracts, and to the principles of beauty and proportion in art.

Is it possible for one planet to have two mythic identities since it shares rulership with two signs and each is seen to have a different nature? Since Venus manifests as morning star and evening star, it seems plausible. As the signs that relate to desire and fertility, and justice and wisdom, it seems appropriate to distinguish the archetypes of goddesses that align with them. Looking through the eyes of ancient myths, I believe that the aspect of Venus that relates to Taurus is Aphrodite, the Evening Star, and the nature that belongs with Libra is Athena, the Morning Star, goddess of wisdom and strategy.

Aphrodite, Taurus, and the Evening Star—Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. She was Venus to the Romans, and the ancient Greeks identified her with the Egyptian goddess Hathor. Doves, lovebirds, were sacred to her. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, she was born when Cronus (Saturn) castrated his father Uranus. He threw the genitals into the sea, and Aphrodite rose from the churned up sea “foam,” aphros. The Furies and the nymphs of the Ash tree emerged from drops of his blood. Hesiod states that the genitals “were carried over the sea a long time, and white foam arose from the immortal flesh; within it a girl grew.” Aphrodite floated ashore on a scallop shell.

She is consistently portrayed as having had no childhood and born as a nubile, infinitely desirable adult, hinting at earlier origins that were literally transported across the sea. Because her beauty fanned the flames of desire, the gods feared rivalry would disrupt the fragile Olympian peace, so Zeus married her to Hephaestus. Because of his ugliness and deformity, the blacksmith god was not seen as a threat. Although she was one of the few gods in the Greek Pantheon to be married, she had many lovers. She slept with gods, such as Ares (Mars), and men; and many beings were said to be children of Aphrodite. This was expected of ancient fertility goddesses whose role was to abundantly populate Earth.

Aphrodite/Venus aligns perfectly with Taurus, the sign of fertility. Her sensual desire nature also compares with the amorous meaning given to the evening star in numerous cultures. The ruler of Taurus should be a beautiful and youthful goddess of fertility and pleasure who awakens our passions. If we think of Taurus as feminine, like the earth awaiting the seeds of spring, we can better appreciate the goddess who is her ruler.

Athena, Libra and Morning Star—Although later Greek myths say Athena was Zeus’s daughter, born as a fully armored adult war goddess, earlier myths say she was the principle of wisdom that created the cosmos. Athena is the goddess of wisdom, law and justice, just warfare, mathematics, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill. Minerva is her Roman counterpart. Metalwork of weapons also fell under her patronage. She is very similar to the Egyptian goddess Neith. Athena used diplomacy and declared war only as a last resort. She then led battles with the disciplined, strategic side of war, in contrast to her brother Ares (Mars), the patron of violence, bloodlust, and slaughter.

The Athenians founded the Parthenon on the Acropolis in her honor. Athena’s veneration as patron of Athens seems to have existed from the earliest times and was so persistent that archaic myths were recast to adapt to cultural changes. The connection between serpents and Athena was explicit in ancient Greece, and serpents are universal symbols of wisdom. As stern guardian of the Acropolis, the Goddess was accompanied by a great snake that encircled her shield. Herodotus reported that in Athens “they have a great snake which guards the Acropolis and to which each month offerings of honey cake are made, and graciously received. By the time of the Persian invasion, the snake refused the offering. When the priestess announced this, the Athenians deserted the city because they believed the Goddess herself had deserted the Acropolis.”

Archaic Athena was not a Greek goddess; her name does not have a Greek etymology. She is an echo of an ancient goddess, perhaps a bird goddess from ancient Crete, where women had considerable power. Athena’s name, which means “Lady of Athens,” has survived in Linear B tablets from the Minoan period. In poetry from Homer onward, Athena’s most common epithet is glaukopis, usually translated “bright-eyed,” or “with gleaming eyes.” Glaux, “owl,” is from the same root, presumably because of its own distinctive eyes. Another symbol of wisdom, an owl was her constant companion.

Libra is a cardinal air sign, “masculine” in polarity and mental in nature. Although Libra is often characterized by a love of beauty and a desire for harmony, as the opposite sign to Aries, it takes “warfare,” strategy, and conflict resolution into the realm of relationships, legalities and contract negotiations. Many famous generals have been Librans, displaying keen strategic minds. Lawyers and judges who balance the scales of justice don’t back away from a good fight. Athena’s wisdom, strategy, and keen eyes are a good match for Libra. She can guide us through the sometimes-painful path of relationships that have entered the stage of commitment.

Should astrological interpretation follow ancient mythic tradition and allow for a dynamic where one planet can express a different and distinct energy depending on the sign to which it relates? We can learn a great deal by decoding the symbolism in ancient myths. It may also be possible that a theorized, but yet-to-be identified planet, perhaps a brown dwarf companion to our Sun, called Tyche by some scientists, may eventually be confirmed and become the ruler of Libra.

By Julie Loar