Aphrodite got a bad rap.

In Jungian psychology, all our Western myths - which are primarily Greek and Judeo-Christian - are not just fun-filled stories to read, but include symbols that unlock the mysteries of our subconscious and our inner motivations. Greek gods and goddesses are not just characters playing out pranks and love affairs, they reflect archetypes that are deep within us, archetypes we ourselves “act out” in the drama of life. Jean Shinoda Bolen wrote two wonderful books - The Goddesses is Every Woman and The Gods in Every Man - in which she describes these archetypes (Greek gods and goddesses) in detail.

Aphrodite represents the archetype of feminine sexuality and sensuality. Many written Greek stories of her (literacy began when patriarchal systems were already well-entrenched) portray her as using her sexuality in manipulative ploys, as petty, pouty, immature, cruel, capricious, and as a sex-crazed woman who had many lovers (the other goddesses were either alone, had one lover or husband, or denounced men altogether - yet almost all the gods were philanderers and rapists, perhaps this was where our double standards originated?). Television shows Xena and Hercules also had their fun with Aphrodite, portraying her as a weak but nasty-streaked "love goddess" who needed constant extravagance and luxury. We are reminded of her influence in movies which portray Hollywood vixens living off of rich and powerful husbands, requiring extensive lavishness in the forms of breast implants, jewelry, and lots of money without "lifting a finger." Marilyn Monroe had many of our culture's view of Aphrodite's characteristics in her insecure transformation of herself into a male fantasy figure.

But this isn't an accurate portrait of Aphrodite.

Aphrodite (later "borrowed" by Romans as "Venus") is a much older goddess than Greek myths portray. In written Greek myth, Aphrodite is said to have emerged from Kronos' (Zeus' father whom he killed) castrated member, his blood and his semen, which fell into the sea and merged with seafoam and magically transformed into a nubile adolescent woman. Thus, Aphrodite was born by a patriarchal line, and had no mother. Athena was born in similar fashion, supposedly, because Zeus was worried that her mother, Metis (who was the Goddess of Wisdom), whom he impregnated, was going to bear a son who was mightier than himself. Athena emerged from Zeus' head fully armed. Although Athena originally had a mother, she experienced her birth by her father.

These wild stories of "virgin births" by males juxtapose any barnyard common sense and are most probably symbolic of patriarchal societies completely destroying any leftover matriarchal threads. When goddesses are born of men, they have no tie to anything truly feminine. They are "fathers' daughters." True to their births, Athena identified with men, becoming one of Zeus' favorite children, a leader and instigator of armies and wars. Aphrodite seduced and attracted men. In the Greek myths, neither Aphrodite nor Athena liked or wanted anything to do with women.

This very fact makes it difficult for many feminists to like Aphrodite. I have to admit, I never really liked her. Upon delving further, however, Aphrodite was a goddess who was very affirming to women. It is only in later stories which originated once the patriarchy was firmly in place where she backstabs women and acts out of insecurity and jealousy.

In very ancient Greece, Aphrodite was worshipped as the holy trinity of the Goddess, and was called the Moerae or the Fates, and was said to be older than Time. In the Middle East, she was known as Astarte, and was the goddess of the oldest continuously-occupied temple in the world. In Assyria, she was known as Mylitta. The world over, Aphrodite has been called Mari (Goddess of the Sea), the Cyprian, the Paphian, Venus, Moira, Marina, Pelagia, Stella Maris (Star of the Sea), Ilithyia (Goddess of Childbirth), Hymen (Goddess of Marriage), Urania (Queen of Heaven), Androphonos (the Destroyer of Men), Asherah, Libitina, the Fairy Queen, St. Venerina, St. Venere and many more.

Aphrodite was worshipped in temples that combined sexual and sacred practices. Her well-respected priestesses were all sacred harlots and taught an approach to spiritual grace, called venia, through sexual practices in the same vein as Tantrism. These virgin priestesses were called "joy maidens" and had other duties than ritual congress with strangers. They tended the sacred hearth fire and performed water rites, dedicating themselves to Aphrodite. According to Nor Hall, author of The Moon and the Virgin, "children born of a temple priestess were called divine because they were born of these holy virgins." This influenced the story of the "holy virgin Mary" who was also said to have lived in a temple. A common medieval legend was that, "If a knight placed his ring on the finger of Mary's image, she would grip it firmly so it couldn't be removed. At this, the knight considered himself a Bridegroom of the Virgin and entered a monastery. The same tales were told of pagan statues of Venus, who 'married' any man who placed a ring on her marble finger." (Barbara Walker)

"The free woman, who is archetypally both virgin and prostitute, is bound to her own instinct (or the law of the goddess) in a way that makes her appear to be the ultimate anima, the veiled, beautiful, beckoning soul of a man. This is because she is completely "other," unknowable and thus unattainable...These goddesses are not saying that they will not give themselves sexually - but rather that they will not be taken or possessed by another being. Their abundant fertility...is not dependent upon being fertilized by the male sexual embrace because it is a spiritual pregnancy that fills from within." (Nor Hall) In other words, Aphrodite and her followers did not depend upon men to affirm their sexuality, fertility, or very being.

It was only later when the Judeo-Christian religions became popular that the mind & body, sacred & sexual split in the Western psyche. Aphrodite's temples were condemned and violently ravaged. Early Christians built churches atop old temples, and thus, the spirit of the original goddess lived on. Such is the case in Cyprus, where Aphrodite's temple was converted into a sanctuary of the virgin Mary. In this sanctuary the virgin Mary is still hailed - to this day - as Panaghia Aphroditessa, or, All-Holy Aphrodite. According to Barbara Walker, feminist author, "...continued worship of the goddess on Cyprus probably contributed to the Christian belief that the whole population of Cyprus descended from demons."

The original Aphrodite was not just a sexual being. She was maiden/mother/crone. According to Nor Hall, "Aphrodite, who is called the Emerging One, renewed her virginity every morning by bathing in the sea of Paphos. Before every love she was a maiden. How is it that a woman makes herself a maiden again?... Only when a woman has been split in two can she know what it is to be whole." According to Barbara Walker, Aphrodite's "birth-giving and death-giving aspects have been suppressed, but they were equally important in her cult." Aphrodite was considered Queen of Shades along with Persephone/Proserpine, and in Roman times death was considered the culmination of a sexual union, "a final act of the sacred marriage promised by the religion of Venus." (Walker) During the Elizabethan era, "to die" was a common metaphor for the sexual orgasm.

Unlike the screen siren Marilyn Monroe, the archetype of Aphrodite invites us to enjoy our bodies without depending upon the mirror of others or specifically, of men. When we are feeling low about our bodies or self-esteem, we can ask for her energy to inspire us to feel beautiful and sexy. Whether we create or appreciate something beautiful and aesthetically-pleasing, we are paying homage to Aphrodite, lover & muse of the arts. We can also use the example of pre-patriarchal Aphrodite to heal the mind/body split and the guilt and dysfunctional feelings of our sensuality, our sexuality and our womanhood that society has suppressed for centuries. With Aphrodite, we can once again become whole.

- Published in the Artemis Arrow, February/March 2001

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