This lovely man was arrested for indecent exposure for showing his devotion to Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”. He looks perfectly decent to me!
You know, I don’t have a good answer to that question above, and if I claimed to in all seriousness, you should probably just walk away now. Still, I figure that if you are going to be a regular reader of this blog and are interested in how I work, it’s probably best to get this out of the way at the outset: Despite the fact that I have had a 25 year relationship with Aphrodite it may be of interest to know that I don’t actually consider her to be an “entity” or being, or power outside of my own existence, although it’s not quite that simple either. I know this position is troubling for some people. I also do not see her as an archetype or psychological projection. In fact, I think that many of the archetypical constructions of deity are extremely confining and prescriptive and don’t allow for revelation or long term growth. I think that seeing Aphrodite as an archetype is very limiting, and I think that except for some rare, short term circumstances, working with her that way can do more harm than good, especially given the pitfalls I outlined I my last post.
I identify as an atheist/pantheist. Both are true for me. I tend to see the world and everything in it as sacred to the core and made of sacred stuff. That includes me and you! So why do I choose to identify as an atheist? First, I think it can be an important thing to do culturally and politically. I was raised an atheist, and my ideas about deity (or lack thereof) are perfectly compatible with many forms of historical atheism. There are many different types of atheist. For instance, I identify as a “soft metaphysical” atheist, that’s just one form, there are many others. I’m frequently frustrated with Pagans and other folks who are merely informing their ideas about atheism based on Christian discourses. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of prominent atheists who also do this, and who seem to be operating purely from a reactive space. While I admit I am not wholly unsympathetic to their cause politically, I find their world view just too reductive. The fact is, in the great big world of religious practice and spiritual experience there is a whole bunch of cool stuff that happens and many different ways to talk about those experiences. I have found that in the West we are pretty limited in our spiritual vocabulary, and tend to filter our experiences through the monotheistic, Abrahamic, generally Protestant lens.
So, how do I see and work with Aphrodite then, and why would I choose to do something that seems so contradictory to many people? Well, I choose a deity practice because it is awesome, fun, beautiful, challenging and rewarding. It allows me a wonderful vehicle for making real change in my life. How that happens will be the source of much of what I write here, both the pleasures and the perils.
But how do I conceive of her? What is my reality? As I stated, I don’t see Aphrodite as a projection of my own mind, not exactly anyway. I had this wonderful conversation with a dear and respected friend one night, where we spoke of deity experience rather like tuning a radio dial into a frequency. When you tighten that focus, you hear things, you see things. The relationship is really about connection and awareness. To be perfectly honest, in my work with Aphrodite, she is rather an outer layer to wider contemplations and practices designed to cultivate awareness of love, compassion, desire, change and action. She is a form that we can see, understand and work with, very effectively too, and for a lot of work having an external form to work with is essential in helping to articulate your process. But the deeper you go with a deity practice, the more the form gets in the way (especially with Aphrodite), but I’m getting ahead of myself…
For a lot of work, the form is important. Sure, we are all made of sacred stuff, but sometimes you need an external Other in order to get the message you need to hear and do the work you need to do. Aphrodite has a huge, rich history throughout the centuries of myth, devotion, cult, relic and practice. For me, these things help to bring form and focus to a wonderful, beautiful Other, made of sacred stuff that is also me. Sometimes I need to take her form out of myself and then I have her “out there” to listen to, learn from, contemplate, enjoy, yet always with the awareness that I am she, and she is all, and I am all.
Ok, so I guess that part is a bit hard to explain. It’s complicated, but you know, the multiverse is rather complex and there are a lot of experiences, resonances and worldviews that don’t fit neatly into any box and that simply don’t lend themselves to particularly coherent, linear explanation. Life is filled with fuzzy lines, not neat, clean ones, and I’m pretty comfortable with that, although a lot of people genuinely aren’t. I think Tantric understandings of deity and deity yoga practices which focus on the union with deity tend to resonate best with me and best approach my perspectives on how this all works. Historically in the West we have done this with theurgy, which suggests that we have mostly just forgotten that we are made as the same stuff as the Gods, we just need to remember (although that is somewhat simplistic). Theurgy gives us the techniques for doing that, which I’ll also get into on this site because I find theurgic practices so essential to modern deity work. Ultimately, though, over time, every breath becomes a prayer to your own divine self and you don’t need the reminders quite so much. Until you do.
Aphrodite. Goddess of love, sex, beauty, adornment. Goddess of union, both civic and corporeal, in both love and war. Golden divine watcher over sailors and prostitutes, patron of judges, our Lady of joy and laughter who unites sea and sky. She is desire herself, she who encircles all, she who was All before the beginning and for whom ending has no relevance.
I dedicated myself to Aphrodite while walking alone on a beach 25 years ago, but the relationship began long before that, and had roots in my childhood love of Greek mythology. The picture of Aphrodite you see to the left of this post from the beautiful D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths was so compelling to me as a young girl, I drew it over and over for years, wearing my colored pencils to the nub. Initially, the relationship had a strong elemental quality. Being a water sign and having spent my life near large bodies of water, she symbolized a higher expression of the divinity of water which I saw as so central to my well being. But that’s not all: I was compelled to love and to know love. When I was much younger I didn’t really have the sorts of romantic relationships that people in their teens and young adulthood did. I wanted them, but I didn’t know how to get them. Although not partnering as a young adult was certainly the best decision, I felt like something in me was broken and unlovable, and I wanted to work with her to try to gain insight into something I didn’t feel like I understood all that well. I didn’t want to work with her because it was an area that came easily to me. I work with her still because Love is hard.
Over those 25 years, my relationship with Aphrodite has changed enormously and grown in unexpected ways. I am in my mid-life, and have beautiful, strong, loving partnerships and rich, deep friendships all over the world. I love and am loved. My Aphrodite focus now is on compassion, grace, justice, and experiencing and embodying the joy that is in the co creation of every moment. This requires fierce dedication and awareness because, let’s be honest, people are crappy and grumpy, and the world is violent and unjust. To fight that every day is still the Hard Work, and I don’t always even come close to getting it right. My practice informs every breath and every smile, and worship happens through dance, touch, healthy choices, a kind e-mail, watering a plant, and activism. There is no within and without.
Doing in depth deity practice requires a great deal of commitment to introspection and internal work. Aphrodite is, well, seductive, and she has a dark side. She leads people to narcissism, compulsion, sex addiction, eating disorders. She can look like the emptiness inside that needs to be filled by the constant adoration of others, perfectionist tendencies, compulsive shopping, dangerous sex, and vanity. She can wreck marriages and careers. I have seen many turn to her in pain, only to become a wrecking ball, as they believe that they are doing the work of Aphrodite. They are not. Knowing yourself, knowing what motivates you and taking responsibility for your actions is key to a sustained relationship with any deity as well as any person. Also, as with relationships with all beings, knowing that as you change and grow, so will that relationship.
This blog will reflect my years of work with Aphrodite and the twists and turns of that amazing relationship. Some pieces might be more accessible for new comers to this path, some might be more useful to people who have been doing focused deity work for some time. My practice is contemplative, reflective and embodied, and some aspects of my approach might be considered…unusual. I identify as a Chaote, so for me the idea of trying to recreate “authentic” historical Aphrodite worship makes no sense and is of little interest. However, learning about the cultic practices for Aphrodite through the ages is of great interest to me in that it can give me cool ritual technology and touchstones for understanding and contemplation that are fantastic, but this blog will really be focused on a living relationship in the 21st century that is based in creativity and revelation. I expect I will be sharing other things from time to time not related to Aphrodite, but perhaps other areas of thought or practice, because hey, I have a blog, right?
Next time I will start to address how I understand deity. It probably isn’t what you would imagine. This well is pretty deep, in fact it just keeps going…
Welcome to this brand new effort. Lovely to have you here.