Considering Aphrodite on my Altar

Empedocles believed that sight was created by the fires of Aphrodite being lit in your eye. While the sentiment is poetic enough, it just shows the degree to which Aphrodite has always been associated with image, sight, viewing and the gaze.  For about 25 years my Aphrodite statue has been the central focus of my primary household altar.  Of course it makes sense to have a stylistic representation of her as the centerpiece of a sacred space.  Statues and iconic representations of deities have historically served several purposes.  Theurgically statues and icons hold the deity.  The statue was the deity made manifest and thus became the place where the dedicant would place their offerings, petitions and devotions.  Today, most people use sacred icons in the same way.  They are not only a focus for ritual activity, but for me images of Aphrodite have always served as a reminder of her presence in my life and also to try to live her work. My altar to her normally holds things I am concentrating on magically, things I find beautiful or meaningful, and some relics from her temple in Paphos.  In the past my altar has been elementally themed with watery colors and seashells, but in the past few years I have shifted to a more planetary asthetic to reflect a Luciferian current as well (more about that in a future post).  Sometimes for particular workings I have switched it out completely.  Once I did a really super black Aphrodite altar with black roses and a veil.  I was in a bad mood.

But over the past six months or so I have been thinking a lot about the form of Aphrodite and what it means to work with images of her.  I want to address this in a number of contexts eventually, but let’s just start with the altar since it is ubiquitous for many people who have some sort of deity practice. Aphrodite’s earliest temple on Paphos didn’t have any sort of statue that looked like her.  The centerpiece was a large, black almost pyramidal stone.

Conical Stone of Aphrodite in Paphos

Conical Stone of Aphrodite in Paphos


The stone has remained in Paphos for visitors to see, but you can also see images of the stone on Roman coins.

Roman coin with image of Aphrodite stone

Roman coin with image of Aphrodite stone in the temple at Paphos

This stone was old and revered, and may represent one of the longest continual sites of worship in the ancient world.  No doubt it held her power for people.  While in many ways I find the transcendence of the Neoplatonists a bit annoying, they did have some interesting things to say about the pitfalls of embracing the icons of beauty too closely, for if we do so, we only have the image of love, not love itself.   If I see Aphrodite on my altar every day, does that in some way inhibit me from seeing her in myself?   Where do I put the locus of agency? Perhaps a stone is not a bad approach.

And another tricky thing about Aphrodite is that, let’s face it, most images of her by necessity represent very normative standards of beauty.  Does the statue help me to see that beauty in myself, or do I transfer the ideal to her, or someone not me? Can having such a central reputation of idealized beauty as the visual focus of my sacred space inhibit the potential for me to see beauty in all things, even if only a little bit? Now, these questions get us into some really interesting territory about the sacrality of objects, the locus of power in a deity relationship, and what the purpose of representative deity iconography is for devotion and practice.  If you are a hard polytheist, you will have very different answers to these questions, and that is ok by me.  I think that regardless of your answer, these questions are well worth considering so that your practice is in alignment with your spiritual goals.  For me, the goals of deity relationship are to artfully empower myself to embody a set of ethics and values that I think are good and useful in the world.  So, it is prudent for me to revisit parts of my practice, such as having a statue on my altar, to consider the ways in which they may or may not be serving me.  It may also be that when I started the Aphrodite project so many years ago, that the role of the statue played a very different part in my understanding of deity and of my own Pagan identity.  I know I have certainly changed and developed, and I think these things need to be retheorized from time to time in accordance with our own changing understandings.

So I think I do want to redo my altar.  Not sure how yet. Watch this space.

Welcome to the Garden

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.