Aphrodite – Lady of Sweetness

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I am starting my mini-series about the deities that I currently honour with a goddess who I have known about all my life but only recently felt compelled to build a relationship with.  Given that I have been coping with grief and loss for many months, Aphrodite’s bright, vibrant energy felt very attractive to me, a much needed balance to my own journey through Persephone’s shadows.

As I began to read about her, it struck me how much in the popular imagination of our culture, that her deeper mysteries and power have been rather reduced. She is often depicted as a sex kitten, which is not to say she doesn’t have her flirtatious, promiscuous moments, but as a goddess of love, passion, union and sex, this rather shallow interpretation minimizes the depth and impact of all she represents. After all, love and sex can initiate our most profound, transformative experiences.  Aphrodite is the energy in nature that draws things into union – a connecting force; through her we build relationship not only with lovers, but all the other things in our life that draw passion and love from us – be it our life’s work, nature, our families, our creativity. She teaches us that such unions of passion and love change us, challenge us and work on us. Anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship will know that in our lover’s eyes we ultimately find ourselves – the very best of who we are but also our shadow. Through union with another, we are offered the opportunity to not only know our partners more intimately but, in the process, learn more about ourselves; this can been the best of journeys and the most painful but it will never leave us the same – it is just not meant to.

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It has been of great interest to me that Aphrodite and Persephone have mythic connections.  They share a love of Adonis – after his death he lives part of the year in the underworld with Persephone and part in the land of the living with Aphrodite. They are also both key players in the story of Psyche and Eros. Psyche is tested by Aphrodite, given almost impossible tasks to prove her worthiness for the love of Aphrodite’s son, who himself is also a god of love. Psyche translates as ‘breathe’ and can be understood in the deeper sense as ‘soul’. This feels key to me with regard to Aphrodite’s more profound mysteries – the story of Psyche seems to suggest the soul’s growth and transformation through its encounter with love. Psyche’s trials on her journey to be reunited with Eros, takes her to the Underworld – Persephone’s realm ; love with all its pleasures and joys, undoubtedly has its shadow side, and we often meet these head on in our relationships: jealousy, betrayal and conflict. Like Psyche, our naivety about love and ourselves is burnt away in the crucible of our emotions, and the most direct and powerful of arenas for this transformation to manifest is our relationships with others.

This link between Aphrodite and Persephone resonates with the earlier Sumerian mythology of Inanna and her sister Ereshkigal . Inanna was a goddess of fertility, love, lust and battle, and like Aphrodite was associated with the planet Venus, as morning and evening star. Although the Classical Aphrodite was only associated with love, we can see echoes of Inanna in her connection to the God of War, Ares.  Inanna descends to the Underworld realm of her sister Ereshkigal and is kept prisoner there. Like the Persephone/Aphrodite/Adonis myth, we see the seasonal story enacted, but it also says much about what happens when love is lost to us or our assumptions about love are dismantled. When love turns sour, or love is denied us through rejection, conflict or even bereavement, we too must engage with our own emotional descent.  This journey, although challenging, potentially deepens not only our understanding about love but our ability to love in a more profound and authentic way.

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When we examine the power of love to impact upon our very souls, Aphrodite’s ‘Sex Kitten’ image really doesn’t do her justice. Having said this, she is an essentially joyful goddess – love may bring us to our knees on occasions but it also brings us our happiest moments. For me, she is key to our creativity. As a goddess of attraction and union, she opens us to life and experience. When we look through her eyes, we are struck by the beauty not only of our beloved but of the world. Her energy is expansive, it is hard to contain it – love flows outward, to be miserly in its expression means that it shrivels and dies. Aphrodite knows that energy functions in exchange –the more we give, the more we have. She is a goddess that heals the split between body and spirit because for her there is no separation; through the sensual pleasures of the body and the intense emotional  connection that sex can bring, she affords us the opportunity to ground ourselves in the world  and in our bodies in the most joyful and energising ways.

Born from the foam, she is also a Goddess of the ocean and as fishermen once prayed to her to guide them through choppy seas to safe harbour, she can protect and navigate us through the turbulent waters of our emotions. I am lucky enough to live merely feet from the ocean and I watch over Aphrodite’s waters every day. I am struck by how relentlessly changing they are, very rarely truly flat calm. But Aphrodite’s numerous ancient epithets had her as Lady of Safe Harbour, and through her connection to Venus, Goddess of Gardens, she can bring us to a place of peaceful sanctuary.

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These last few weeks have seen Venus as the evening star.  I have watched her from my balcony shining above the sea as the sun is setting. She is stunningly beautiful and bright. As evening star, we watch her set below the horizon on her Underworld journey and we are reminded of our capacity to hold onto hope in our darkest times. As the morning star, she seemingly rises up from the earth, returning from the Underworld and teaching us of renewal. These settings and risings can remind us about the cycles of love, the way it can renew, burn fiercely, die back , then renew again, each of these emotional states a gift that can deepen our understanding of who we are and how we relate.

Aphrodite is both profound love and passion, and the horniest sex – she doesn’t see the separation between these. She can bring flippant encounters that are pleasurable but will never be lasting, but she truly comes into her own in our deepest love matches. The Greeks had her as both Aphrodite Urania, the starry goddess of Spiritual Love and Aphrodite Pandemos, earthy, goddess of the masses: Aphrodite contains these seemingly contradictory states within her and confounds all our most limiting assumptions about love.

She is also supremely helpful in teaching us how to love ourselves. It may be a cliché to say it but we love others more effectively, and perhaps less painfully, when we have a healthy sense of self-appreciation.  Aphrodite can teach us to take tender loving care of ourselves and to love and take pleasure in our bodies and beings; she can also encourage us to enjoy life and its pleasures, to revel in ourselves and the things that bring us joy.

Aphrodite came to Classical Greece via Cypress. The Cypriot Aphrodite was a much more rounded and complex goddess who, for me, is closest to how I experience her. She is essentially life-affirming; demanding that we engage with it, be touched, moved and changed by it. When we hammer up boards to keep life out, she will come like a tsunami to break our defences but when we embrace her fully and openly, we are rewarded with sweetness, depth, joy and transformation.  She is a garden in blossom, a sun-filled sea, an unforgettable kiss; she is every moment that reminds you how grateful you are to be alive; she is the flower that opens to the bee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred Sex and the Goddess and God of Beltane

Lady of the earth’s desire and the earth’s yielding, of the sap rising and the embrace of longing, as the kiss of the sun awakens you, we too are awakened to the yearning of our bodies and souls. As you unfurl each petal, you release the scent of bluebells, may and apple blossom – this is your love song, your call to union – and we too must answer.

It is hard to resist loving this time of year, everything feels gloriously alive and renewed; the blossom abundant; the green of the trees that special shade that our eyes seem magnetically drawn to. The colour of bluebells has an equally mesmerising effect, as if we are thirsty for it, that rare, vivid, unearthly blue that dissolves and overwhelms our defences with joy. 

Beltane is the festival of the Sacred Union of the Goddess and God. It’s a deeply joyous affair, celebrating sexuality on many levels, its rites ultimately honouring our striving for that union of the Divine Masculine and Feminine deep within us. I always think of it as exploring that magical process when we truly open to another – just as the blossom to the bee – and in the surrendering of that boundary become something more than ourselves. Love and sex bring us some of our most profound experiences; some ecstatically joyous; others deeply painful – but at best they open us and let the mystery of another’s being flood into that intimate, hidden space, changing us.

I have always been very interested in the spiritual dimensions of sex. From very early on, I had an inkling that sex had the potential to be a gateway to God which was rather strange considering my early experiences of it, which at best were rather empty, superficial teenage fumbling, at worst humiliating abuse. Even at the lowest moments of the abusive relationship in my teens, when sex really did feel like the sharpest and most brutal of weapons to my young psyche, I knew deep down that in its purest form it could be a profoundly connecting and intensely spiritual act. What my early experience taught me was that it takes a great deal of courage to let sex work on you in that way because such an experience demands a mutual surrendering; a letting go of all that keeps us feeling safe; a stripping away of those masks that hide our vulnerability. In abusive relationships you have a dynamic where that surrendering is being actively forced upon one party by another; the enforcer does their utmost to surrender nothing – they control the surrender by force or coercion and vicariously experience it for themselves whilst retaining a sense of power. Such an approach is mainly about power – it’s not even really about sex. Sex becomes an enticing setting because it is potentially where we expose our greatest vulnerability.

Sex can be the most meaningless of acts, a superficial if pleasurable sensation; it can be a battlefield, the most painful wedge of separation between two people; it can also be a gateway to another’s deepest being, a connecting force between the soul of one to another; it can bring an intensity of emotion and feeling that blows life as we know it apart – all known signposts gone – and from this intensely vulnerable and alive place, a new potential of being can be born. Spiritual sex, sex that engages the body, mind emotions and soul surely takes us to the Divine within, shows us most vividly a glimpse of that Divine Union that we strive for within us, the union that Beltane is ultimately about.

Our particular Beltane rituals tend to focus quite a lot on self-worth. I think for many people there is a lot of healing to be done with regard to sexuality and intimacy; good boundaries and healthy self- esteem are so important. It can be easy to make sexual and emotional choices that are less than good for us when we have a fragile sense of self. Self-love and care are psychologically strengthening; they help to bring clarity and re-engage us with a healthy and flexible self-protective instinct. We start to develop better judgement in deciding ‘what’ and ‘who’ are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for us.

The Goddess and God of Beltane – as I understand them – touch me deeply and help to heal my old wounds. The Goddess is the Lady of the Heart’s Blossoming, Divine Lover, setting fire to our bellies with Her joyous heat and animating our bodies with the blissful energy of Her love. We honour Her as Queen of the May, Lady of Life and Love, naked and radiant with the power of Her desire. She reveals to us the joy of union, the exquisite unfurling of body, mind and spirit. Crucially She teaches us that the treasure of our Yoni is truly precious, a place of inspired creation and pleasure, the gateway to life, challenging the often derogatory and confused undercurrent that seems to underpin attitudes to female sexual organs and sexuality; she taps us in to their deeper power and significance. In Her heart burn the fires of love, both the love of self and of others. She holds up Her mirror and reflects back to us our true beauty and worth. When we gaze at our reflection, we see Her beautiful face, body and being. I have learned that Her beauty is our beauty, that in valuing and loving ourselves, we are honouring and loving Her. She expresses the wisdom that without such loving self-care we can never truly open to another. She is passion, joy and creativity; queen of her own body, emotions, mind and spirit but also striving for joyous union with the world and others: She is the needy heat of desire; powerful self-love and the passionate love of others; She is ecstasy and the dance of life; She is sensuality and deep connection; She is the intimacy of skin upon skin. We feel Her pulsing though us when we fall in love, when desire takes over; when we reach out to touch the soul of another. We also feel her when we take joy in ourselves, when we feel and see our own beauty and worth. Historically She has been given a terribly hard time. She has been called whore and punished for Her beauty and Her power. She is often the one within us that needs the most healing.

The God of Beltane expresses a joyous desire, he is Lord of the waxing earth and sun; vibrant spirit of the wildwood whose green blood fires our hearts. He is the moist fingers of outstretched leaves and His vibrant growth is the tender hand that moves upon the body of the Goddess. He is the warm kiss of sunlight, the heat of passion and the dance of life. He has helped to heal a great deal in me, teaching that the treasures of His Sacred Phallus are not violence, senseless aggression or abuse but strength, passion and reverence. He is our energy and vigour. He is the Great Spark of Light and Life, and as bluebells cover the woodland floors; apple and hawthorn trees blossom and everywhere grows lush and green, His desire intensifies. At Beltane He hears the voice of the Goddess deep in the greenwood and with joy answers her call, drawn by her glorious scent, striving to merge and surrender to the bliss of her embrace. He is the heat of passion; the sweet pain of yearning; the reverence that true intimacy and love inspires. Through Him we are transformed by desire; we open to the mystery of another; we die to our separate selves and become the ecstasy of life. He touches us with His urgency; move us with His need; take us to the core of ourselves.

Beltane encourages us to ask – ‘What is life without passion and connection?’ It opens us to the extraordinary energy of our desire but also to the deeply empathetic nature of our being, one that strives to relate, make connections, open ever further to  the mystery of life. This Beltane, may each of us be blessed with deep and abiding love – of self, others, our planet – and through those healing fires of love and passion, may we each find our true path to Union within.

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