Emerging Archetypal Themes:
Libra, Dangerous Beauty and The Art of Relationship
Libra is not only about the need for partnership, it is also about the art of partnership. This month’s Emerging Archetypal Theme focuses on the artistry of relationship and the need for women to remember our role in the relationship dance. In our hurry to achieve equal rights with men and to be ‘friends’ with them, we women have lost some of our instinctual feminine knowledge, especially the art of attracting, charming and seducing our partners. As the heroine of our movie is taught, “…you need to understand men. No matter their shape or size... position or wealth... they all dream of the temptress. The irresistible... unapproachable Venus.”
Men and women have different needs and desires. When women act like men in a relationship, there is no balance, no good tension that increases sexual desire, a desire that helps bond us together. Women don’t want to be friends with men on their level, because male friendships are often competitive and they certainly don’t call each other when they’re going to be late! Relationships aren’t meant to be competitive; relationships are meant to enhance each partner. Good partnerships need our willingness to try to meet each other’s needs as long as it doesn’t diminish us. This is also true for gay couples, because each relationship needs the give and take, the action and attraction that is energized by both masculine and feminine energies. Whether we pursue or are pursued, the need to attract a mate calls for some artistry.
Libra rules all kinds of artistry. An air sign, Libra wants to put into action the rules of engagement. But relationship mores are changing rapidly, so I thought it might be helpful to discuss some of the feminine characteristics that attract and engage men and women alike. While women can be as honest, loyal, courteous, honorable and trustworthy as any man, we need to remember how to make those shining virtues enjoyable and attractive.
And so we turn to Aphrodite/Venus to teach us that joy. Aphrodite is a Goddess of wholeness, containing both masculine and feminine energies, and yet she is also a female being and manifests the feminine virtues when in relationship. Venus rules the sign of Libra in October, the harvest time, the time of community and fruitfulness, when there is a balance between light and dark, between masculine and feminine. She is interested in social relationships; not just love relationships but the whole sphere of proper relationships between all peoples and nations. And so She rules diplomacy and all forms of art. She says each of us must examine what Beauty and Truth mean to us and consciously live it out. Venus’ Libra mission is to teach us to have our own aesthetic, for Beauty opens us to Spirit.
So let’s take a look at the Goddess of Beauty, Love and Wisdom who sits in the heart center of the body, ready to become the balance point in relationship.
Aphrodite of the Greeks, Venus of the Romans, is one of the most vibrant archetypal images of the Goddess that has come down to us from antiquity; the aspect of the ancient Goddess that was never totally forgotten, the form of the Goddess written about and romanticized down through the ages until She truly embodied 'the mystery of life, and love that begets life'. Aphrodite is the Goddess who combines the spiritual and natural worlds, spirit and body. She does this through Her essence, which is Love. She embodies the energy of connection, for She brings everything into relationship, from electrons to people. She is the Goddess of Love, the love that is rooted in the body and which is playful, sensual, and erotic. As Goddess of Sexuality, she engenders all physically passionate love: non-marital and marital, heterosexual and homosexual. As Goddess of Beauty, she connects us to Truth. As Goddess of Wholeness, she drives our individuation and awakens Psyche within us.
Aphrodite of Rhodes
The Greeks came to regard the ideal form of Aphrodite’s divinity in the beauty of Her naked body, for ancient statues of Her show Her either about to undress - revealing Her mystery - or already undressed. If these forms express Her essence, then it is the realm of body that reveals Her mystery. There is a radiant charm in Her loveliness which draws us into relationship, because the truth of Her Being is embodied. As the archetypal essence of love and sexuality, Her heavenly nature clothes Her instinctual, earthy nature, thereby uniting both realms in harmony. She asks us to love our bodies, knowing that they are truly the temple of Spirit here on Earth.
Aphrodite is so powerful because She connects us to our deepest yearnings and desires, those very instincts and desires which we have tried to control or repress for fear of the chaos which it brings to the collective order. We fear our bodies as much as we fear death, and so we do not give ourselves over to love completely. Very often our sexual desires and fantasies symbolize our deep need for union with the Divine. And if we let it, our deep union with the Divine can open us to our senses so that the world becomes holy. As we have cut ourselves off from our sexual needs, we have also cut ourselves off from a basic connection to the Spirit, so that in reclaiming our sexuality, we come that much closer to Spirit.
We have to remember that the Christian Church, from its earliest beginnings, viewed sex as inherently evil. The early Church fathers felt that chastity was the only means of finding sanctity, and many of them were obsessed with the notion that sexuality was the cause of our fall into original sin. Medieval theologians felt that sex caused the damnation of the human race, and that women, being the cause of carnal lust, were soulless and the ultimate source of damnation! (They, however, rarely blamed men for being unable to restrain themselves from raping and pillaging women and children.)
The Church set out to destroy paganism and the cults of the ancient Goddess, which viewed sexuality, as well as women, with reverence and honor, and which included fertility rites, and so women were seen as the source of all evil. The Church condemned Eve as the source of our fall from grace when she taught Adam about sex. The Protestants were even worse in their view of sexuality and women, for they preached that men should beat their wives and not take pleasure in the sexual act. The Church’s legacy of sexual inhibitions and repression gave rise to the sexual revolution in the ’60’s, and we are still dealing with inappropriate sexuality in terms of sexual permissiveness and out-of-control pornography. When we react to something, we are still bound to it. It is only when we really free ourselves from the old that we can find a new balance.
We need to make sacred sexuality the norm. For too long it has not been so, and we are still experiencing the dysfunction of our sexual history. We need to heal our sexuality. In Raine Eisler’s book, Sacred Pleasure; Sex, Myth and the Politics of the Body, she says that it is important to understand how the way society uses pain or pleasure to motivate human behavior determines how it evolves. Our traditional Christian imagery sacralizes pain rather than pleasure, especially in choosing Christ Crucified rather than the Risen Christ as their central God-image. Women’s bodies and sexuality have been demonized by Christianity and therefore rigidly controlled. And so, we have a society where there is mistrust between men and women because of this longstanding religious mistrust and control over our sexual relationships.
A New Relationship with Sexuality
Aphrodite emerges from the sea radiant in her feminine sexuality. She does not need a lover, whether man or woman, to awaken or confirm this knowledge for her. She owns her body and knows she is a sexual being. Aphrodite is opposed to those thinkers who would do away with the bodily differences that have kept women second-class citizens for millennia; who would say there is no inherent difference between women and men. Politically and economically men and women must be equal. But our equality cannot be based on sameness, for it does away with the unique vision and understanding of life that manifests through our bodily differences. Our equality should be based on the fact of our differences, for we are created male and female.
The Taoist concept of Yin and Yang speaks of how these two primal energies intermingle in all of creation, how each of us contain both male and female. The two sexes are miraculous and mysterious. To disregard our bodily differences does away with a consciousness of images, for our bodies image femininity and masculinity in the world. We need to get beyond the stereotypes to the reality of our bodies, and when we do, we will begin to understand the mysteries they manifest.
Aphrodite loves our differences, for She is the dynamic that connects the opposites and brings about transformation. In ancient Greece, she was paired with Ares, the god of war, just as they were known in Rome as Venus and Mars. Love and War. Make love, not war. And perhaps the most true - only love can contain war. Only love knows how to take the war out of men, only love and compassion can give rise to true peace. Aphrodite's love for Ares is long-standing; even when her husband Hephaestus traps them in an unbreakable chain as they lie in bed together, Aphrodite feels no shame. Perhaps in claiming a connection to the warrior energy of Ares, who as the Roman Mars was concerned with grappling hand to hand with an opponent, Aphrodite shows us that it takes the courage and passion of a warrior to engage in sexual love, because it is through our sexuality that we open ourselves to the Other and grapple with that Other. We connect on the most basic levels, and in the battlefield of love, we learn that sometimes surrender can be more pleasurable and ecstatic than victory. And yet in surrendering to love and passion, which opens us to the ‘Unknown’, we come to know and appreciate 'Otherness'. Love seeks to unite us with all Unknowns, bringing its light to each darkness It is through love that we stretch ourselves and become something more, do something more.
Dangerous Beauty: A Complete Woman
Aphrodite's companions are the Muses of music, dance and poetry, and much of our popular music recounts the joys, passions, and sorrows of love, for it is through art that we connect (Aphrodite’s power) with our feeling life. Her sacred priestesses were skilled not only in the arts of sexual love but in all the arts that make for civilization – writing, poetry, history, philosophy, music, art and dance. Knowledge and creativity in the Arts can also teach the art of living and loving.
Aphrodite & the Muses by Burne-Jones
Throughout the ages, the Courtesan exemplified the ideal woman: a woman who enjoyed her sexuality, who was known for her intelligence and who was skilled in the arts. There is a beautiful 1998 movie about the famous Venetian courtesan and poetess, Veronica Franco, called Dangerous Beauty. This film is a tribute to Aphrodite and the courtesans of Europe, who inspired and created much of Western art, literature and culture since the Renaissance.
In ancient times, when the patriarchy was just gaining power and the religion of the Goddess and her relationship to fertility and sexuality was still consciously valued, there were sacred prostitutes, priestesses of the Goddess, who would make love to men as a sacred act of worship, a way of connecting men to the power of the Goddess. As the patriarchy took over power from the earlier matriarchy, men still recognized and honored the power of these sacred prostitutes, and there were still priestesses who performed the hieros gamos, or sacred marriage, of the King to the land and the Goddess.
These women later became the courtesans of ancient Greece. Courtesans enjoyed great personal freedom and economic power, while the wives and female children of men were often treated little better than slaves. These hetaira, called ‘companions to men’ were not viewed as common prostitutes, but were often in the center of the political and as well as the social life of Athens, as were her later counterparts in Venice and Paris. The most famous woman in 5th Century Athens was the hetaira, Aspasia, who lived with the great Athenian political leader, Pericles. Plutarch claimed that Aspasia was clever and politically astute, and noted that Socrates would bring his students to hear her speak, for she was a teacher of rhetoric, even though she also ran a school for courtesans.
During the Renaissance, the courtesans of Venice, called Honest Courtesans, were as famous for their literary talents as for their sexual artistry, and for the next few centuries, courtesans enjoyed more power and independence – especially economic freedom - than any other women in Western Europe. The courtesans of Europe have left their mark on our architectural, literary and artistic heritage.
The courtesan became the ideal incarnation of the Goddess Aphrodite, a woman who belonged to herself, who often enjoyed the same freedom and social benefits as men, who was the intellectual equal of men, and who was as adept at the arts of music, poetry and dance as she was at the art of lovemaking. While the courtesan’s place and power depended on men’s need for female companionship, the courtesan certainly is the exemplar of the powerful influence an independent woman can have on men if we own our wholeness.
Susan Griffin, in her book The Book of the Courtesans enumerates the virtues of these courtesans: Timing, Beauty, Cheek, Brilliance, Gaiety, Grace and Charm. We modern women could learn a lot about getting men to value and complement our standpoint if we practiced these ancient arts.
Veronica Franco knew how to use these feminine virtues. Trained as a courtesan by her mother, who was also a famous courtesan, Veronica quickly became a favorite of the power elite in Venice. From an ancient, yet impoverished, Venetian family, Veronica was skilled in all the arts of the courtesans, for Venice was famous throughout Europe for her courtesans. Her literary skills were enjoyed and supported by the rulers of Venice, and at one point, she helped Venice attain the support of the French king in their war with the Ottoman Empire. But when the plague swept through Venice, the Church blamed it on the licentiousness of the courtesans and had many of them brutalized. Veronica was charged with witchcraft, but she saved herself by standing up for herself and shaming the noble men who had used her for their own pleasure and yet were quick to abandon her in her trouble. The character of Veronica Franc is the most complete and whole female character in any movie I’ve ever seen.
Dangerous Beauty is a story about Veronica’s rise to fame, as well as her enduring love for a powerful Venetian noble, Marco Venier. When Veronica (an amazingly artful Catherine McCormack) learns that Marco cannot marry her because he must marry for wealth and power, her mother Paola (the beautiful Jacqueline Bisset) encourages her to become a courtesan. The scenes where she is taught the arts of the courtesan are both informative and delightful. The power of the courtesan is that she can be educated, unlike the proper noble wives of Venice, who are left ignorant of both history as well as current events. Veronica’s friend Beatrice, sister of Marco, has to ask Veronica to come and tell the proper ladies of Venice how their husbands fare during the war, for as Beatrice says, they are totally inconsequential to their men.
The beauty of Veronica’s character is that she has all the virtues of the noblemen of her time, and yet she displays them through her femininity. While she is wildly in love with Marco, once she becomes a courtesan she will not sleep with him, although she enjoys – yes totally enjoys – the sex with other men. It is Marco who finally breaks down and comes to her after a nasty altercation with his drunk cousin, Maffio (a deliciously evil Oliver Platt). And once they are together, it seems nothing can separate them. That is, until Venice needs Veronica to seduce the French King and get his help in their war. When she does, she wins their accolades but loses Marco.
When the men return from war, they find a completely transformed Venice; the plague has decimated the city and fanatical preachers assure the people that it is God’s vengeance on them for their frivolous and licentious ways. Courtesans are beaten and killed. Veronica is imprisoned and accused of witchcraft by Maffio, who has always been jealous of her beauty and power. Marco wants her to plead guilty so she can confess and be absolved of her ‘sins’ but she refuses because that will mean she has to deny who and what she is. Her speech before the Church court beautifully expresses the feminine standpoint that has been so denigrated by Christianity and patriarchy.
Veronica Franco: I confess that as a young girl I loved a man who would not marry me for want of a dowry. I confess I had a mother who taught me a different way of life, one I resisted at first but learned to embrace. I confess I became a courtesan, traded yearning for power, welcomed many rather than be owned by one. I confess I embraced a whore's freedom over a wife's obedience. I confess I find more ecstasy in passion than in prayer. Such passion is prayer. I confess I pray still to feel the touch of my lover's lips. His hands upon me, his arms enfolding me... Such surrender has been mine. I confess I pray still to be filled and enflamed. To melt into the dream of us, beyond this troubled place, to where we are not even ourselves. To know that always, this is mine. If this had not been mine-if I had lived any other way-a child to her husband's will, my soul hardened from lack of touch and lack of love... I confess such endless days and nights would be a punishment far greater than you could ever mete out. You, all of you, you who hunger so for what I give yet cannot bear to see that kind of power in a woman. You call God's greatest gift- ourselves, our yearning, our need to love - you call it filth and sin and heresy... I repent there was no other way open to me. I do not repent my life.
Wow! I love that speech. And yet, how many women today would think to say those things. We are so concerned with making our way in the world – the masculine world of commerce – that most of us don’t value our relationships as much as our jobs. We no longer believe that relationships are central to our lives because we’ve bought into the patriarchal paradigm that power and money are more important than love and commitment. I’m not advocating going back to the old paradigm of patriarchal relationships and family values. I firmly believe, though, that women are the heart and soul of relationships and that we need to polish up our feminine virtues – our courtesan nature – if we want to create vibrant, loving, creative partnerships.
Women can find our wholeness when our sexuality is as full and as deep as our minds have become. The centuries of shame and sin that Christianity has projected onto sexuality must be healed and transformed, for sexuality cannot be anything other than spiritual when it becomes the union of body and spirit. Before we can engage in true union between two people, we must first bring about a union of body and spirit within ourselves. We must be somebody if we are to love somebody. Aphrodite can lead us to this kind of feminine individuation.
So if you haven’t seen Dangerous Beauty go out and rent it today! It is a feast for the eyes and the soul. And then consider learning how to use those feminine virtues of Timing, Beauty, Cheek, Brilliance, Gaiety, Grace and Charm to enliven your life and all your relationships!
From the Bard’s Grove,