Aphrodite Pandemos: We Are All One

A couple of weeks ago I was honored to have been asked to lead a Solar Cross devotional. It was a really lovely event and I so enjoyed all the people I met.  What a fine group of cool people! If you get the chance to attend any of the devotionals, you should.  Given the mission of Solar Cross to engage in social justice, I thought I might lead a bit of an exploration to Aphrodite Pandemos—Aphrodite of All the People, one of my favorite forms of her.

Aphrodite Pandemos is frequently set in distinction to Aphrodite Urania, Heavenly Aphrodite.  Platonically derived material, particularly the type we have already explored that emphasized transcendence over embodiment and placed a moral good on escaping materiality, set the two forms against each other, Pandemos representing the coarser sexual instincts of humanity, while Urania represented a higher, more evolved sense of love.  Meh.  Plato is why we can’t have nice things. But anyway… in ancient cult practice, which is frequently distinct from the literary tradition, Pandemos represented the civic body, the union of all the people. Do we perhaps see echoes of her here?

“We the People in order to form a more perfect union…”

Because most people think of Aphrodite predominantly as the Goddess of Sexy Fun Times, her civic role may seem a bit strange.  But Pandemos really shows off wonderful glimpses of the nature of Aphrodite and she is lusciously rich. Most famously, we see Pandemos in Athens representing the ideal of the polis, of the body of people coming together which is key to the coherence of any society.  In a previous essay I wrote of Aphrodite as a Goddess embodying ideas of mixis, or the mingling of bodies, and in my view her civic role displays this characteristic as well.

Pandemos is also related to Peitho, Goddess of Persuasion. Sometimes Peitho was a Goddess on her own, sometimes an epithet of Aphrodite. While we certainly can apply persuasion to the art of seduction (and the possibility of sexy fun times), persuasion is also something that lawyers and judges need to command (Aphrodite was beloved of judges), and while we frequently attribute that skill to, say Hermes, Pandemos and Peitho suggest that there may be more to the art than just mastering verbal acuity. And why would this skill be important? Because persuasion and rhetoric, when deftly applied, can set the foundation for a healthy civil body, one that comes together, in love, for the good of all people.  These are, perhaps, the root of democracy.

Pandemos also welcomes all-comers, even when they do not constitute a traditional civic body as one would have found in Athens. Andrew Scholtz suggests that the cult of Aphrodite Pandemos at the Egyptian port town at Naukratis reflected the need for diverse peoples traveling through an area to feel welcome and supported, and that hers was a space where all could worship, as opposed to temples which may have imposed restrictions on who can worship based on place of origin.  Scholtz notes that here Pandemos played a cosmopolitan role for merchants, seafarers, travelers and prostitutes, serving multiple populations in a locality, constantly shifting, strangers coming and going.

For the Solar Cross devotional I wanted to focus on how each of us is an embodiment of Aphrodite Pandemos, and how when we make love the center and primary driver of our action, the body of the people becomes strong and beautiful.  I took for the basis of this devotional the idea that sustained relationship or encounter with deity is a contract. We get, but we must give in return.  And as we are each instances of Pandemos, I first asked everyone to look in the mirror and to offer to ourselves as Aphrodite Pandemos, in that way reminding us that we are already Goddess,  knowing that we are her individually and that together we are One.  Breathing as one, feeling each other as one body, knowing that all we do touches some other being, all other beings, I invited us to explore what would happen if, when we acted, we were always aware of our interconnectedness, or unity? I then asked everyone to consider one concrete thing they could do in the next 30 days to give back to their community, and then we charged it up. This act to me is an offering to the Goddess, to her as the people and to ourselves.  We are all one and the same.

I pledged to donate to a domestic violence charity, so I gave some funds to A Safe Place, Inc. What will you do in divine service for the good of all?


Andrew Scholtz “Aphrodite Pandemos as Naukratis” in Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 43 (2002/3) pp. 231-242.






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.