Sunday 19 January 2014

Venus and Transformation

The nineteen month cycle of Venus involves a very elegant dance between four partners: Venus, Sun, Earth and Moon. At inferior conjunction, Venus is between the Sun and the Earth, and at her closest point to Earth. At superior conjunction, Venus is on the other side of the Sun, at her remotest point from Earth. Thus at the former, she is mediating the energy of the Sun to the Earth, and at the latter, she is mediating between the Sun and the rest of the Universe.

So where does the Moon fit in? Well, Adam Gainsburg – who devised his thirteen-phase Venus cycle in The Light of Venus by actually going out and looking at the sky – points out that in the eight months when Venus is Morning Star she makes a monthly conjunction with the Moon. But the interesting thing is that the conjunction is always with a balsamic Moon. It's so obvious when someone points it out to you. After all, in the early morning you can only have a thin crescent of a Moon, as she's making her way back to the Sun. I'm not an early morning person myself, and have rarely if ever seen a morning conjunction of Moon and Venus. I have, however, seen plenty of conjunctions of the crescent Moon and Evening Star Venus but I suppose I just thought myself lucky. I didn't realise that, in the evening, Venus can only be conjunct a new crescent Moon for exactly the same reason: the Moon has just met the Sun and is setting out on her next monthly journey.

I've been playing around with this and I'm pretty sure that, during the Morning Star period, the Moon-Venus conjunctions begin at their furthest apart (45o) and the angle decreases as Venus moves further from Earth and becomes lower and dimmer in the sky. When she disappears from the morning sky, the next Moon-Venus conjunction is at or very close to a New Moon. The exact opposite occurs when she re-emerges after her lengthy period of invisibility around the superior conjunction. There's a Moon-Venus conjunction around a New Moon just before she reappears, and then the angle between them increases over the next few months until it reaches 45o again, shortly before she disappears from the evening sky.

This brought to mind an image of a cup or a goblet, and set me thinking about what this cycle's about. There are many similarities between the Descent of Inanna to the Underworld and the journey of Venus, but personally, I don't fancy my corpse hanging on Ereshkigal's peg for an indeterminate period, even if it does lead to transformation. It smacks too much of the angst-ridden, renunciative guilt-trip that we've been led to believe is all there is. But life is much more rounded than that.

And then inspiration struck. There's an obscure poem from the Matter of Britain called The Spoils of Annwn. No-one's quite sure how old it is, or indeed what it means. I like to think that it carries several layers of meaning and so can be appreciated by many different people in the same audience, all at the same time. Thankfully it was crafted in an age where you didn't have journalists and interviewers hammering away until they had wrung the Ultimate and Undisputed Truth from its author. This is simply a different way of thinking – it's like holding up a diamond and watching it shift and change as the light catches it. It's like any good myth – it can be enjoyed by many as a cracking good yarn, but it also carries pearls of wisdom that only a few will understand.

But back to The Spoils of Annwn. It tells of a raid on the Underworld (Annwn) by King Arthur and three shiploads of men. The raid seems to have had various purposes, such as rescuing a prisoner, stealing the Cauldron of Inspiration or maybe they were just generally behaving like hooligans and coming away with a bag marked 'Swag'. They met with mixed success, as each verse ends with the dolorous line 'Except seven, none rose up from …' (whichever one of the seven Fortresses they had to pass). These seven Fortresses are much like the seven Gates of the Underworld that Inanna had to go through. They could refer to the seven traditional planets, the days of the week or it could just be because seven was a magical number. The overall impression is that it was a risky business, but the prize was worth it. (Why do I think of oil and Iraq here?). Anyway, you can imagine it going down a storm with the feudal lords and their merry men. This superficial layer, however, doesn't have much bearing on the cycle of Venus.

My cup or goblet had by this stage turned into a cauldron, and as I turned it over in my mind I realised I could map out the whole Venus journey on the Cauldron of Annwn. One of the 'hidden' meanings of the poem could be the quest for poetic inspiration, as Taliesin – the Welsh bard – was one of the seven that returned with Arthur. The relevant lines are:

My original song stems from the cauldron,
By the breath of nine maidens was it kindled.
The Chief of Annwn's (i.e. Lord of the Underworld's) cauldron, what is its power?
Ridged with enamel, rimmed with pearl,
It will not boil the coward's portion …

Just briefly, the Nine Maidens are the Daughters of Memory, or the Moon – effectively the Nine Muses. There are simply too many mythical cauldrons to explain all their meanings, but Taliesin gained his poetic insight by stealing from another cauldron three drops of inspiration that were meant for someone else (he was only meant to stir the brew); and there are several magical cauldrons that will not boil meat for a coward. I take that to mean, in this context, that you can't be certain of success – much as, in the lunation cycle, you can't guarantee that the New Moon seed will flower and fruit.

While we're back with the Moon, I should mention that when Venus is Morning Star she's young and fresh and the Moon is old. Thus the Moon acts as guide and mentor to Venus as she descends to the Underworld. However, as morning Venus is somewhat adolescent in nature, she might not always take to that too kindly. But Evening Star Venus has matured. Joining with a Moon which is carrying the seed of its recent conjunction with the Sun, Venus can use the new impulse of the solar-lunar cycle to assist her in fulfilling her own purpose. And, returning to Arthur's raid on the Underworld for a moment, he travelled there by ship – not so common in classical mythology, but quite usual in Celtic legends.

But before we embark on a voyage around a cauldron, what exactly is the journey about? I think it's about getting in touch with your creativity in whatever way is meaningful to you and then applying it for the greater good. Sometimes it'll happen, sometimes it won't. We have little control over the process or its outcome – however much we like to kid ourselves.  

So we start at the rim of the cauldron, which is edged with pearls. The light catches one of them – this is Venus' heliacal rising, her first brief flash as she appears on the horizon after the inferior conjunction a few days earlier (Birth phase). Over the next two weeks, she establishes herself as Morning Star (Emergence phase). She is still retrograde at this point. Now at the point where the cauldron bulges out, we reach the phase called Fullness. It starts with Venus' station and turning direct and ends with her at her maximum distance from the sun, hence she's at her brightest and highest in the sky. This phase lasts about seven weeks. From this point on, Venus is moving away from Earth and closer to the Sun. Over the next five and a half months (Surrender and Discovery Phase), Venus gradually decreases in brightness and height. Remember too that since Emergence Venus has joined with the old Moon each month in the morning sky. At the end of this period, she disappears from the morning sky and begins her Underworld journey.

We have now reached the flames and bits of wood on the cauldron, which cover the phases Immersion, when Venus begins her period of invisibility and is moving at her fastest direct speed, and Transmutation, when she reaches the superior conjunction with the Sun. This is where an alchemical process takes place – the cauldron is set deep within the earth and is warmed by flames. The water within it is concocting … something … and the breath of the nine maidens is both fanning the flames and cooling the mixture. These two periods last about three and a half months and after the conjunction Venus' thoughts once again return to home.

At the end of this period of invisibility, Venus is reborn as Evening Star (Rebirth phase – about a week). She then begins the long, five and a half month ascent (Remembering and Embodiment phase), during which she becomes increasingly brighter and higher in the evening sky. She is now moving towards Earth and away from the Sun. And, of course, she is accompanied by a new crescent Moon each month (up until the Transition phase). She reaches her maximum brightness and greatest height at the Wholeness phase (about seven weeks and the full bulge on the cauldron), after which both start to decrease until she reaches her station at the Completion phase (about two weeks) and turns retrograde.

The next three stages are collectively called Transmigration as you're now moving on to something else. I see these collectively as the mouth of the cauldron and the steam above it, where what's been fermenting since the superior conjunction can be reaped. In all, the period is very short – barely two weeks – so you have to be quick! The period begins with the retrograde Venus' disappearance from the evening sky at the Transition phase (again, visualise one of the pearls on the cauldron's rim quietly flashing and then disappearing). This is like the final stage of the lunation cycle, when the seed – which holds the essence of the old cycle and the promise of the new – is released. This is followed six days later by the inferior conjunction (Inception phase), which might yield the quintessence, the distillation of the cauldron's brew, like the three drops of inspiration that young Gwion imbibed, transforming him into Taliesin. Venus is now at her closest point to Earth once again. The final few days are the Gestation phase, when you prepare yourself for your return to the world, just like Venus at her heliacal rising.

Well, it all makes perfect sense to me, so I hope it does to you also. If you want to find out more about this subject, I really can recommend Adam Gainsburg's book – he maps Venus' journey differently and he gives a lot more information about each phase. You can also find out which phase you were born under.

Friday 17 January 2014

Venus returning

Since around the year 2000 I've been keeping an eye out for significant events occurring around the heliacal rising of Venus, when she returns to the morning sky. According to Bruce Scofield in Signs of Time, there can often be plane crashes, but specifically ones caused by pilot error or rash behaviour (remember – this is the rash, brash and sometimes aggressive face of Venus). Apparently the ancient Mesoamericans believed that the rays of heliacal rising Venus were so dangerous they boarded up their doors and windows, and even blocked their chimneys, to avoid being struck down by them. Thus the heliacal rising can also coincide with someone being 'struck down' by death or illness, or being brought low, most likely by scandal.

2006 was an interesting year in terms of the Venus cycle.  There was a Sun-Venus inferior conjunction on 13th January and Venus emerged from the Sun's beams around the 19th. One person brought low during this period was the former MP Mark Oaten. He announced his bid for leadership of the Liberal Democrats on 10th January, following the resignation of then-leader Charles Kennedy. Then on 18th January, he became embroiled in a row about the leaking of an email. On 19th January he withdrew from the contest, citing lack of support for his candidacy. And on 21st January the News of the World ran a story about his involvement with a male prostitute a couple of years earlier, with further allegations following over the next few days. Oaten resigned from the Lib Dem front bench on 21st January 2006 and left Parliament at the 2010 election.

This next example is not of a heliacal rising, but of a Venus return which is also the completion of a Venus cycle after a gap of eight years: 

(Click to enlarge)
 I had originally thought that Ariel Sharon had been 'struck down' by the rays of a newly birthed Venus in 2006, but when I checked the dates it was a couple of weeks too early. He suffered a massive stroke on 4th January 2006 and never emerged from his coma, so this is not a heliacal rising event. But in terms of the thirteen phases of Venus, it becomes even more interesting, for when he was initially struck down transiting Venus was in the Completion phase of her cycle. This phase begins with Venus' station in the evening sky, following which she turns retrograde. The phase lasts around 15 days, with Venus high in the sky and very bright to begin with, but getting increasingly lower and dimmer each evening as she accelerates towards the Sun. By the end of the phase she's been consumed by its rays, and Venus was close to this point when Ariel Sharon succumbed. As Venus shifted from high to low and from visibility to invisibility, Sharon moved from an elevated position in the external world to one where he was no longer seen by the world, and we can only assume that any activity that was going on was purely internal. 
(Click to enlarge)
As we know, he remained in a coma for eight years, then on 1st January 2014 doctors issued a statement to say his condition was deteriorating. He died ten days later on 11th January at 14:00 local time, which is less than half an hour before the exact inferior conjunction of Sun and Venus. That means he died during the dying embers of the Venus cycle eight years on, in the final, thirteenth phase of Transition. And transition is exactly what he did, his soul being released from his body when Venus was just two minutes short of an exact conjunction.  

Thursday 16 January 2014

Venus rising

Venus is about to make a return to our skies as Morning Star after a short period of invisibility, during which she joined with the Sun at her inferior conjunction. In my experience, few astrologers pay much attention to the cycles of Venus and Mercury, which have distinctive rhythms owing to the fact that they orbit between Earth and the Sun. Because Mercury is so close to the Sun, he's much more elusive than Venus and there's not the same level of mythology concerning his cycle. However, as one of the brightest objects in the sky, people through the ages couldn't fail to notice Venus as she comes and goes, growing brighter and dimmer, and as morning star and evening star. It's not difficult to see why she was associated with beauty, rhythm, harmony and so on.

But there's so much more to Venus than the superficial gloss we apply to her in chart analysis. Actually, the very word 'analysis' is anathema in this context. Venus doesn't analyse, she flows. She moves between phases and she moves between worlds, as in her Sumerian guise of Inanna and her descent to the Underworld, where her dark sister Ereshkigal reigned.

I've worked with Venus' phases for many years but recently I read a book called 'The Light of Venus' by Adam Gainsburg which takes the Venus cycle to a whole new level. He defines thirteen distinct phases – way beyond the four I was using. (You can find out more from his website But he also has some very interesting things to say about Venus herself. I think there's a tendency to trivialise Venus in astrology, linking her to a love of luxury and acquiring 'stuff,' wanting harmony in life and good d├ęcor in the home, and generally being nice to people because she wants everyone to love her. All surface stuff. Yet there's so much more to her than that, and as one of only two planets that embody feminine energy in the chart Venus deserves much better. (Yes, there's also a whole host of female asteroids, plus some female Centaurs and minor planets but they don't fulfil the same function as Moon and Venus, in my opinion).

So it seems only right to mention that behind the fairly nondescript figure of the Roman Venus stands a line of formidable – and at time terrifying – goddesses. I've already mentioned Inanna, who was stripped of everything as she moved deeper into her dark sister's realm. And still Ereshkigal demanded more of her, so that eventually Inanna gave up her life and her corpse was hung on a meat hook, rotting for several days before her rebirth and return to the upper world as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Then there's Aphrodite, the Greek Venus. No ordinary birth for her: she was the result of the union between the severed genitals of Ouranos, the sky god, and the sea (which is where his dangly bits landed). When you take into account the fact that the Erinyes (Furies) sprang from drops of Ouranus' blood, you get an idea of the power and energy behind the birth of Aphrodite. And, closer to home, we have the Irish Morrigan, goddess of love, sovereignty and death. In the latter form she was known as the Battle Crow, who fed on the corpses of slain warriors. The Irish hero Cuchulainn once spurned her. Tired out after a day on the battlefield, he declined her invitation to make love – not a wise thing to do to a goddess. It led to his downfall in the end, when he was faced with an impossible choice. All Irish heroes had many obligations or taboos laid upon them. Two of Cuchulainn's were never to refuse hospitality when offered, and never to eat dog (his totem animal). So when an old crone at the roadside invited him to join her in a meal of dog, he was doomed whatever choice he made. The crone, was, of course, the Morrigan in disguise. Cuchulainn died on the battlefield later that day and the other warriors only believed he was dead when the Battle Crow came to peck at his flesh. Oh, and the Morrigan's name is usually translated as 'Great Queen' – another nod to Venus.

This gives us a much more rounded picture of Venus and the kind of energy she embodies. She is the essence of femininity, encompassing love, war, relating and the desire to connect with others. In her morning star phase – when she rises before the Sun and is visible in the morning sky – she is assertive, aggressive even, and at times war-like. As evening star, having returned from her longest period of invisibility and her furthest point from Earth at the superior conjunction, she is much more measured, reflective and altruistic. She has travelled to the other side of the Sun and wants to use what she learned there for the greater good of society, humanity and ultimately the entire Earth community. Venus, like Neptune, is about interconnectedness but, as a personal planet, it's through Venus that we can bring that concept and understanding into our daily lives.

Another thing I think we tend to forget is that Venus is Earth's twin. The two planets are very similar in size and sit next to each other in the solar system. Though the length of their orbits are different, they're locked into a harmonious pattern. This means that for us on Earth five cycles of Venus are equal to eight Earth years. (As many of you will know, Venus' cycles during this period trace a beautiful five-pointed star around the zodiac). On a personal level this means that every eight years we experience a Venus return, to within one or two degrees. I will give a striking example of this in my next instalment.