Ishtar & Aphrodite – Part I

It seems particularly apr to begin this article with a reference to Gustav Klimt’s “The Die Jungfrauen” (The Virgins) 1913  shown above because it celebrates the stages of a woman’s life and the intertwining rhythms and themes which I would like to explore in reference to the understanding of Venus.  This work isn’t to read as a single moment in time, but as depicting the evolution into womanhood. The curator at the Klimt Museum notes that there ” are six women in the painting (or one woman with four sides to her persona) and all of them seem to be intertwined. The lines are clear and the human themes of love, sexuality, and regeneration are obvious in the circular cyclical shape of the work. In painting The Virgins the different life stages are represented by the same woman. Dislocated body parts in outrageous poses move as if underwater. The empty shell of a woman’s dress at the bottom gives birth to a child (the next generation) via a cascading waterfall of colour.”

In order to understand the essence of a thing, it behooves us to discover and contemplate its origin. But Aphrodite is not a thing, she is an archetype used to inform us of the meaning of the planet Venus. For those wishing to avoid a psychological approach, Plato’s Forms will adequately explain the relationship. Not everyone will be happy when I suggest that the better an astrologer understands the essence of the signs and planets, the better astrologer he will be. . I would suggest that it isn’t enough to say that astrology is a symbolic language. It is that too, but one needs to know what the symbol points to in all its wealth of meaning.

There is a view among some so-called traditional astrologers that astrological delineation is a more or less a mechanical process. Any reference to myth or spirituality is seen as a betrayal of tradition. I think the reverse is true. The history and expression of astrology since earliest antiquity, and indeed even during the Paleolithic period, has always been imbued with a soul and I contend that it should be approached in this spirit.

Contemplating the origins of astrology fascinates me personally, but this is something that astrological thinkers have to do a great deal of. In order to know why there are twelve houses with specific significations, we need to go back to the beginnings of horoscopic astrology and indeed to that which preceded it.  The same is true of the signs.

Most constellations look nothing like what they are purported to represent, yet the record shows us that for the most part there was a surprising degree of agreement on what they were. Why is that? We also gain a great deal by studying the earliest interpretations of the planets and the cosmologies that inform them.  However, the understanding we have cannot be universal, unless we can truly understand the root essence of the meanings allocated to planets. Authentic astrology is rigorous and works on more than one dimension. As will become evident, with Venus the core meanings are in the Venus cycle and her associations with the feminine.

The Evening Star – Venus in the Pleiades star cluster April 3, 2012.© 2012 Alan Dyer

In the case of Venus, most modern and contemporary astrologers subscribe to the European understanding of the Roman Venus. She is absconded from Greek mythology to Rome. from Aphrodite to Venus. Not much else changes and she seems not just rather domesticated but separated from some of the most basic elements of the real feminine.  This is the Venus we see in the newspaper columns and in popular star sign books, where Venus is almost always spoken of romantic. But even serious modern astrologers have a very narrow view of Venus. Presumably, William Lilly only had access to Classical and Medieval sources.

Lilly wrote: “”[QUALITIES OF MEN & THEIR PROFESSIONS.] Musitions, Gamesters, Silk—men, Mercers, Linnen—Drapers, Painters, Jewellers, Players, Lapidaries, Embroiderers, Women-tailors, Wives, Mothers, Virgins, Choristers, Fidlers, Pipers, when joyned with Moon, Singers, Perfumers, Semi lers, Picture—drawers, Gravers, Upholdsters, Limners, Glovers, all such as fell those Commodities which adorn Women either, in Body (as Cloaths) or in Face, (as Complexion-waters.)”

The list contains musicians, indeed all the decorous arts, and among the Venusian professions we have wives, mothers, and virgins. The portrait is suitably one of harmony, peace, and beauty. There is absolutely no doubt that all this belong to Aphrodite, but it is missing key feminine qualities on a grand scale. This is a somewhat sanitized version of the feminine and I’m reminded of the old English nursery rhyme: “sugar and spice and all things nice – that’s what little girls are made from.”

The Venus Tablet of Ammisaduqa is the sixty-third Tablet of the Astronomical omen series Enuma Anu Enlil. The tablet records the heliacal risings and settings of the planet Venus (Ninsianna) for a period of twenty-one years. (British Museum).

The original ‘Venus” was Innana or Lilith and was associated with the planet Venus and her phases. She was the Queen of the Night with a ferocious libido and her story passed down to us in the Babylonian sources is one of the earliest and most articulate representations of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Hers is a chthonic force that has no truck with the rational. She is a Kali – dishing out death while giving birth. – a goddess of Creation, Destruction, and Power. Indeed, the two are so similar, that it’s quite plausible that they derived from the same source.

In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Innana travels to the underworld, dies and is resurrected. This is a reference to the Venus cycle. Her period of visibility, including her passage as morning and evening star, is very close to the traditional period of the gestation cycle of 260 days, associating her with creation and childbirth. She is not visible for about three months of the year (about 105 days) which would correspond to Innana’s ‘death’ or passage to the underworld.

When Innan rises (as does Venus) she is rising before the Sun, ready for war. During this phase, she is also known as Lucifer and Phosphorous. This fire turns to more sensual pursuits when she is the evening star, behind the Sun. Here we once again see the Garden of Hesperides. The Mayans also placed multiple significance on the Venus cycle, identifying it with the gestation cycle and the growing cycle of maize. I recommend an article by Erika Reiner and David Pingree that provides a great deal of detail on this matter.

There is an important distinction to be made regarding Innana and her ‘successors.’ Inanna is not a Semitic deity. This is of some importance because of the cultural milieu. The early Sumerians clearly had a goddess-based religion. It is in her and her closest forms that the feminine has the capacity for its fullest expression. The more Patriarchal cultures of Greece and Rome to some extent recreated Venus in their own image – or more precisely in the image of a domesticated feminine who could occasionally be quite naughty, but a not a woman who occasionally expressed herself as a raging volcano. This is why the cultural milieu is always relevant in deciphering these things. What is most striking is that the traits of the physical planetary Venus have been minimized. Classical or Hellenistic astrologers and those who followed did take the phases of Venus into account and this was true until at least the 18th Century. But Innana has been stripped of her chthonic and primal nature.

Kali_Devi 1770 Print Colored etching on paper,

The writer in the Encyclopaedia Britannica states: “Ishtar / Innan’s primary role in Sumer was that of fertility. However, she evolved into a far more complex character, with association with death and the underworld and all kinds of catastrophic disasters in short order. She was a goddess of contradictory connotations, of comfort and wrath. fire and fire-quenching, rejoicing and weeping, justice fair and enmity. As a goddess of Venus, delighting in physical pleasure,  she was the protectress of prostitutes and patroness of the alehouse. Part of her cult worship almost certainly involved temple prostitution.”

With the inception of Islam, there is a monumental shift in the meaning of Venus. Illustrations of the Islamic Venus, lack any real sensuality. She has the image of a beardless man and is mostly associated with music and dance, although she is considered the lesser benefic and Islam is said to be “under Venus,” in the same sense that Judaism in under Saturn.

Venus is the star in the Crescent of Islam. If we also consider Isis as an element of the Primordial Goddess, we can see how these Semitic, Mesopotamian. Egyptian and Roman manifestations of the goddess inform the culture as well as show how the feminine force was interpreted. Some cultures hold the goddess as a divine creator, while others perceive her in a more subservient role. No doubt this is a reflection of cultural views of women. Nevertheless, I would say one ignores or underestimates the power of the feminine at their peril. It is not an irony that an acceptance of these traits enhances the more traditional ones. It is easier to understand Venus as the evening star if you know where she has come from and where she will return.

To what extent anyone wishes to take this to heart is, of course, a personal matter.  Nevertheless, the full spectrum of Venusian power will be better appreciated by examination of the essence and roots of the archetype and the close relationship to the planet Venus, in all her phases.  I suspect it may also cause some to more closely examine the phases of Venus, which has been a core element in traditional astrology from the very beginning. Discussion of this subject can only provide a deeper understanding and illuminate both tradition and cultural bias.

Clearly, the main elements of this article require a later expansion – for example, the Venus phases themselves.. The Lunar cycle and the Venus cycle are intertwined and to a lesser extent, so are the phases of Mercury. is the c The intent of this article is to raise some of the main issues regarding the interpretations of Venus.

Prisca Theologia

Hermes Trismegistus, floor mosaic in the Cathedral of Siena

This brief article is intended as an introduction to a much larger study of the relationship between enlightened wisdom versus narrow-minded dogma. In the process, I will focus on the Universal approach to religion as taught by Zoroaster and demonstrated by the extraordinary tolerance and benevolence of Darius I,  king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire.  The Persian Empire at this time included most West Asia, the Caucasus,  Thrace, -Macedonia, and Paeonia. It also reached the Black Sea coastal regions, the North Caucasus, and Central Asia

Darius was the author of the first bill of rights, was the liberator of the Jews, banishment of slavery and subscribed policy of noninterference with the religions of other groups.  This meant that the religion of Zoroaster had been spread through most of the known world. long before Alexander.

The Prisca Theologia is one of the most important ideas in the history of at least the last two millennia. This is true for a number of reasons. First and foremost it frees the mind to consider all sources of wisdom on an equal basis – without pre-conceived ideas. If we can allow that all religions might be called Pagan by somebody, even if they don’t match the definition. The most problematic religious beliefs are the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

A girl watches over her sheep and goats as they graze before one of the destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas.

The problem lies in an extraordinary and ingrained intolerance in virtually all forms of these religions. With particular reference to the last two, it is common for one sect to be at war with others, even though the differences in thought do not seem extreme enough to warrant the degree of conflict we see on an ongoing basis. Sufis have a reputation for deep and benign mysticism expressed through music and art, including dancing. Yet Sunni Muslims destroy their shrines in Pakistan and parts of Africa.

Afghanistan used to be a Buddhist country, but in the contemporary nation of Afghanistan, under the Taliban, saw fit to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas. The religious scholars could not distinguish art from idolatry. In my mind, the inability to distinguish shows a spiritual blindness. This paranoid mindset has dogged us through the centuries, sapped our creativity as well as our acceptance of other points of view and other values as well. It is both ironic and inevitable that these qualities have ultimately lead to a preference for atheism.and secularism.

The Abrahamic religions tend to take the position of ‘us and them.’ Certainly, something like astrology takes more than it’s fair share of abuse, even though all three Abrahamic religions support at least some forms of astrology. Rigid religious think has never been capable of expressing great creativity and closed minds are considered safe minds. If it could be shown that all true wisdom comes from a single source, we could no doubt diminish conflict. However, it is not true that all paths lead to Paradise. The latter is a New Age view which is patently false. We make little or no progress by pretending that all paths as laid down are the same, but we make the ultimate progress when we discover common roots and through the process of learning and inspired discernment, we can indeed find the pearl of great price. The metaphor of the pearl and also the that of the mustard seed show us what needs to be done.

If we turn the clocks back to the European Renaissance and the fortunate fall of Byzantium the means by which the opening of an inexhaustible mine of wisdom and inspiration became apparent.  The details of the various traditions will be spelled out in further articles, although some have already been covered in some depth.

The philosophy of Plotinus, a Neo-Platonist, is full of imagery – such as a fountain of light – that provide powerful insights into the nature of creation and the divine.  Plato himself, as well as Pythagoras, claimed connections with the Magi. Judaism would be almost unrecogbizable if the Zoroastrian influence was somehow removed.

Zoroastrian sky burial

The Hermetic Philosophy is so radically compatible with neo-Platonism, Pythagoreanism, Gnosticism, mystical Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism, that it can come as no surprise that Marsilio Ficino put everything else aside to translate the Hermetica – this included putting some of the translations of Plato aside to focus on the translation of the new prize. This is highly significant because Ficino’s ultimate creation was his Theologia Platonica. He was fascinated by what was alleged to be Plato’s astrological chart. it would be exceedingly difficult to find anyone with a greater devotion, some would say obsession with all things Platonic.

Recently, I had the good chance to come upon a paper on the subject of the Hermetica. The author was clearly well versed in the many traditions that shadow or are informed by the tradition. I had only recently written a modest piece on Zoroastrian magic.  Ficino is usually studied with an understanding of his fascination with the prisca theologia or “ancient theology,” the doctrine that asserts that a single, true theology exists, was drawn from a common divine source. The term appears to have been first used by  Ficino.  Nevertheless, I’m not sure that it is well understood how right Ficino really was!

There are essentially two sources of knowledge regarding the date of Zoroaster and the first revealed monotheistic religion. The first is Greek. It tells us he was born in about 6,000 b.c. The second is also Greek and places him at around 600 n.c. The latter appears to be a fairly arbitrary date prior to the invasion of Alexander the Great. There is no actual evidence for the latter date whatsoever. The earlier date was the one accepted by Plato, Pythagoras and others who clearly had contact with magi and Zoroastrians. What we lack in incontrovertible facts, we have in abundance the testimonies of ancients and the unmistakable similarities that point us to a single source. I admit that this requires a willing suspension of disbelief, but the usual alternatives are not available. If we consider the earlier date, then the earliest Hindu writings and the person of Abraham may be considered as deriving from Zoroastrianism.  It has been said that Abraham and Sara are Ram and Saraswati. We may never know and that is part of the point.

Cristian Violatti provides an excellent and concise account of the arguments for an earlier date from classical; sources: “The dates of Zoroaster are also discussed by some classical authors. Herodotus, who we would expect to deal with this issue, does not mention Zoroaster. Plutarch estimated that Zoroaster lived 5,000 years before the Trojan War; the ancients believed that the date of the Trojan War was 1184 BCE (according to Eratosthenes’ estimations), which would make 6184 BCE a date consistent with Plutarch’s opinion. In the 3rd century CE, Diogenes Laertius, based on a claim of Xanthos of Lydia (a contemporary of Herodotus), places Zoroaster’s life 6,000 years before Xerxes’ military campaign against the Greeks, which took place in 480 BCE. Thus, according to Diogenes, 6480 BCE was the time when Zoroaster lived.” (Ancient History Encyclopedia).

One of Ficino’s most brilliant students was a young scholar named Pico della Mirandola. He is most famous for his Oration on the Dignity of Man In it, he addresses ‘the fathers’ – representative of the religious and moral establishment  — with a fiery, eloquent and extraordinarily erudite oration. He was just 22 years of age,  The flowering of the Italian Renaissance was in some respects more impressive that the Classical culture it wanted to emulate. It was like a precious bloom that fell as a result of its own weight.

Girolamo Savonarola

It is necessary here to make a mercifully short digression. The world that had meant to be a renaissance of the Platonic Academy and more was to fall by way of a very stupid, possibly psychotic priest named  Girolamo Savonarola (Italian: [dʒiˈrɔːlamo savonaˈrɔːla]; 21 September 1452 – 23 May 1498). He was an Italian Dominican friar and preacher active in Renaissance Florence. He gained a reputation prophecy and was clearly strongly charismatic. He was obsessed with the destruction of secular art and culture. He managed to terrify Florence to such an extent that its citizens jettisoned books and magnificent works of art on the original bonfire of the vanities. He managed to get the population to turn on itself. Sexuality was demonized and creativity suspected of evil intentions. Whenever and wherever these thoughts become dominant, death of all kinds is at hand. Creativity and sexuality are part of a healthy life.

Not for the last time in history, reason, creativity, and passion were swapped for mortification of the flesh, morbid and delusional fears, mixed with paranoia and absurd accusations (read projections). A salivating lunatic, barking mad as he obviously was, convinced the mobs that he was a holy man. Eben Pico succumbed. Savonarola effectively snuffed one the greatest flourishings of art and culture. It seems particularly ironic that his central prophecy was that a second Darius would come from the North and restore Christianity. When the French king invaded, he saw that as proof that his prophecy had been genuine.

The Middle Persian word ʾhlmn’ (Ahreman) in Book Pahlavi script. The word is traditionally always written upside down as a sign of contempt..

The most tragic element here is that there was an early chance for Christianity to take its place as a cherished expression of the prisci theologia, confident enough to stand without wanting to see everyone else fail. The ensuing years saw the fracturing of the Church, a Reformation that for the most part only made things worse, while inadvertently creating the perfect soil for nutty extremists who saw witches behind every tree. The cult of accusation is always evil. It always seeks a guilty verdict no matter what. A decent Christian or Zoroastrian would see the evil for what it was. The witch hunts didn’t only target witches. It was an easy way to appropriate land and wealth while inflicting the most awful suffering. We see this same spirit at work today.

The ugly religion of Savonarola and his ilk would be considered symptomatic of dark forces and druje in Zoroastrianism.: Jayaram V points out that “Angra Mainyu is the architect of evil, the anti-God principle, who represents evil, untruth, arrogance and death and subjects people to torment once they come under his influence, Ahura Mazda created the twin spirits, the good Spenta Mainyu and the other named Angra Mainyu or Ahirman.”  (Zoroastrianism, The Battle Between Good and Evil).

Some years ago, when Pakistan acquired the atomic bomb, I recall a young man in Islamabad stating “the Christians have the bomb, the Hindus have the bomb and now the Muslims have the bomb.’ The celebrations around this event were quite extraordinary, but my first thought was that this young man and many others. saw the world as being divided up by religions – not as a matter of choice, but as a matter of birth. Hindus were not like Muslims. This kind if thinking should have extinguished itself centuries ago, but in fact, it is strong and unlikely to reverse anytime soon. It’s obvious that the world is still reeling under the weight of massively scaled conflicts. These conflicts are migrating and attempts at multiculturalism on a grand scale fail largely due to religious intolerance.

The beginning of wisdom might be a revisiting of Ficino’s vision with both a mystical and a practical eye.  Ficino was an ordained priest. He was the mentor of Botticelli, Raphael, a score of poets, scholars, and philosophers. He had part of his villa painted with astrological images. His medical knowledge was commendable. It isn’t easy to understand that before Ficino, all but a few, relatively unimportant works by Plato and none of the Corpus Hermeticum was available to the west  His wealthy patrons arranged for the purchase of valuable greek texts that survived the fall of Constantinople. Intellectual and scholarly life before and after Ficino were entirely different.  Italian scholars finally had what they needed to revive something of the Classical world.

[Raphael, School of Athens, fresco, 1509-1511 (Stanza della Segnatura, Papal Palace, Vatican) Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker, Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.]

Nevertheless, the Judeo Christian heritage wasn’t something to be ignored and Pico had no qualms about Moses imbibing from the same source as Hermes. This was most easily done by reference to the Kabbalah. It is however surely noteworthy that Moses is not a central character in the co,[osition. Aristotle was no longer the last Classical word and the mystical quality of Plato became the preferred mode. The famous painting of The Academy shows Aristotle pointing toward the Earth while Plato points to the Heavens. This point in time was the first in which a prisci thelogia could have realistically been envisioned since antiquity.

In 1320 Dante Alighieri completed his Divina Commedia one year before he died. He was considered progressive insofar as he wrote literature in the vernacular. Beyond that, he lived in a Latin world, minimally touched by Greek thought. He had a degree of sympathy with only one Pagan and that was Virgil, a fellow poet and a Roman one at that. Most tellingly, Virgil plays an increasingly small role in

Dante Alighieri

the Comedia after leaving the Inferno. By the end of the people, he is given no voice at all. The Roman Catholic Church must have had the sense of perfect dominion in Europe, even it was threatened on other fronts. As in the works of Chaucer, there is a sense of Europe under a fairly comfortable siege. The notion os a Universal religion or a Prisci Theologia could not have found a footing during those times. A simple comparison of the two periods yields a great deal of insight into the massively expanded view of the late 15th Century.

Let’s take one more example. Dante had placed Guido Bonnati in the Inferno in Canto XX.  He was to be eternally punished for seeking to see the future, in keeping with Dante’s ideas of Divine Retribution. Fortune Tellers and Diviners have their heads on backward and their eyes are full of tears. These are the souls who, on Earth, tried to see too far ahead of them, and thus will spend eternity forever looking behind with blurred vision. Following the teachings of the papacy, the theme of religion is broached, because the papacy did not approve of sorcery in any form.” This is the most perverse hatred and fear of vision. That such a punishment could be considered either wise or just is abundantly symptomatic of a religious view putrid to the core. .

Ficino, on the other hand, was an ordained priest who practised astrology and astrological medicine. He could hold to the Christian faith while being a mage and drawing inspiration from several Pagan sources. It needs to be said that Ficino didn’t need to mention the historical Jesus in his Theologia Platonica, which would rule him out as a Christian in the minds of some. Ficino was so well protected from attacks by extraordinarily wealthy and powerful patron, including ones in the church itself, that we can imagine that a blind eye might have been turned towards his eccentric life.

However, it was by no means that cut and dried. For the most part, the upper echelons of the Church were as enamored with Ficino’s circle of artists, philosophers, magi, statesmen and poets as the Medici themselves. It was a period of extraordinary learning. Latin scholars had been common since Rome itself, but greek ideas, texts, and the language enriched theology to the point that Marsilio Ficino could write The Theologia Platonica in the first place. Logos and Word were interchangeable, except that the word logos has both more specific and more general meanings. Consider this phrasing: “Grant us your favour, My Lord,  show us this day your star,  the one once you showed to the Magi. The star that led the Magi to Christ, may lead us to Christ’s mysteries.” De Stella Magorum

The figure who embodies the greatest number of traits and qualities of this magical Prisci Thelogia was Zarathustra. But how could he be distinguished from Hermes Trismegistus? We know that what the Renaissance scholars were reading was probably a third-century work. However, reading the essence of the Hermetica, it takes no imagination to see Zoroastrian elements as well as Pythagorean and Platonic ones. At this point in history, this ought to come as no surprise. But one of the greatest pitfalls to knowledge has been the weird insistence of linear time and inevitable progress.

There are many interesting twists and turns on the theme of Prisca Theologia. A good example is to be found in Michelangelo’s Bacchus. The unnamed writer at Michelangelo.org writes:

Mechelangelo – Baccus

“The statue of Bacchus was commissioned by the banker Jacopo Galli for his garden and he wanted it fashioned after the models of the ancients. The body of this drunken and staggering god gives an impression of both youthfulness and of femininity. Vasari says that this strange blending of effects is the characteristic of the Greek god Dionysus. But in Michelangelo’s experience, [the] sensuality of such a divine nature has a drawback for man: in his left hand the god holds with indifference a lionsksin, the symbol of death, and a bunch of grapes, the symbol of life, from which a Faun is feeding. Thus we are brought to realize, in a sudden way, what significance this miracle of pure sensuality has for man: living only for a short while he will find himself in the position of the faun, caught in the grasp of death, the lionskin. ”

What the patron had understood as an image of lewdness and inebriation, is subtly turned on its head, as it were. The creative process has brought into play to reveal that the Michelangelo of the Pieta and the Sistine Chapel are not so far removed from the theme of Dionysius or Baccus.

The traditions of Platonism, Hermetical, Qabala, Pythagoreanism and Zoroastrianism, all describe a universe in which humanity has the freedom to choose and create. All of these and other traditions integrate the reading of the heavens. In the next part of this article. I would like to address the consequences of a history of the western world that has mostly ignored the contribution made to augury and astrology itself by the cultures of Northern Europe – in particular, that of the Druids