Wanting. Wanting so bad I can taste it. I want to run my finger down the back of her neck. I want that corner office, the one with the view of the bridge. I want to walk a little bit further tomorrow than I did today. I want to stop feeling so angry. I want to do the very best I can. I want to help people.
Aphrodite is desire. When people first come to her, they frequently come in a state of wanting, usually wanting love, touch, another, sometimes someone specific, sometimes just the opportunity for encounter. Aphrodite is she who inspires insane lust, the kind that keeps you up at night, making you not able to eat, or think. In fact, when the ancients prayed to her it was frequently so that she would lift them out of the fog of crazy mad love so that they could love well and clearly.
Yes, she is that kind of desire, but she is also desire itself. She is the primal flare that inspires you to reach for the divine, to BE the divine. In Plato’s Symposium, the speech of the priestess Diotima reflects on the idea of love (in this instance named as Eros, but as he is the attendant of Aphrodite and the tale is set partially on her birthday there may well be a nod to syncretism here) as being first the erotic experience of physical beauty which transforms into an experience and contemplation of the divine. She notes that the Vision of Beauty combined with virtue is the highest state humanity can achieve. The ultimate Beauty is Knowledge. Obviously, this is a very simplistic take on the philosophy here. There are multiple interpretations of Diotima’s speech, and so much more to be said.
By the time this gets to Ficino in the Renaissance, we see a cycle of Love outpouring from the Source back to the Source through human desire. Since humans are already of the source, our desire is what motivates us to get back to that state of divinity. Ficino, too, focuses on beauty as being the outward reflection of the divine, and the cultivation of beauty as being the instance of its manifestation. It is desire which draws us to beauty, and which makes us want to transform into beauty itself—to become Gods. The transformation is ultimately inspired by the wanting.
Overall, this is a recharacterization and redirection of the physical impulse to love. In the Platonic and later Renaissance framework, there is a suggestion that the act of physical love must be transcended to draw attention to “higher” concerns of the divine, but I personally think it’s useful to abandon that rather unhelpful judgment. It is that primal sense of wanting that we generally experience in the body that leads us to action. Aphrodite is not normally popularly associated with the realm of magick, but I find this is one of her mysteries. She is the spark of lust that comes before the idea, the desire that drives the idea into manifestation. She is the engine of transformation that makes us do magic.
“Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may. Would that be an ignoble life?” Diotima, The Symposium, trans. Benjamin Jowett
And of course, we are well empowered to change the world when we are fully acknowledging and awake to the beautiful Gods within.
And if you want to praise the legacy of Diotima, please check out and support Pantheon Foundation’s Diotima Prize campaign for Pagans in seminary.