One time I attended an event where each of us was asked to introduce ourselves and then say who our patron deity was. A couple of things stood out to me about this exercise: One was that the room was generally pretty traditionally gendered in choice of deities, as far as I could observe. The other was that most of the women seemed to be attracted to the edgy, “darker” (although I find that term problematic) Goddesses: Inanna, The Morrigan, Hecate. When I said that Aphrodite was my Goddess there was an audible set of gasps in the room. I thought that was pretty funny, and also pretty telling.
Aphrodite has an interesting reputation as a Goddess that doesn’t go very deep. I suspect many people just don’t bother to explore the depths with her and as far as I’m concerned, that’s perfectly fine. Not everyone needs to go down that path, and you can be called by or to a deity for all sorts of reasons. In her initial guise she frequently (although not exclusively) appears to the lovelorn, or those seeking and celebrating pleasures of the senses. This tends to be the Aphrodite that we encounter in the literary and later artistic traditions, those that focus on her youthful beauty, her abilities to make matches and to create uncontrollable desire in human and deity alike. Because this is the first entry point into her sphere of influence for many, this is a good starting place for discussion: When you are in need, how do you start building a relationship with a deity?
There are many aspects to Aphrodite’s cultus historically. She had a great variety of epithets and was worshipped in many ways for many reasons. Although I want to get into some of these things over time, I frequently see that many people initially approach Aphrodite with a true sense of urgency. They are in crisis. They are hurting. Intellectual approaches to her history and worship are great and I love them, but first ask yourself: Why are you here? We mostly come to her through our heart and body. The application of mind can eventually add new depth, but it isn’t where many people start.
Aphrodite inspires people who want to give or receive healing from the most sensitive of traumas, so that they can feel good about loving others and themselves wholly. These needs are immediate and pressing. She is there to answer the crisis and to show you that you are completely lovable. She will smile at you, caress you, adorn you with flowers, and will tell you that you are shining and golden. These are her gifts. But you will also need to do the work. You can’t get the blessings until you can come to fully see her in yourself and that means you need to have an active role in the relationship. This might sound like a completely ridiculous feel good platitude, and of course it is on some level, but let’s look at this in the context of working with a deity and trying to make actual change happen. How does that actually work? How do you get results? How can you take that relationship with you out into the world?
Most people I know begin a relationship with a deity by building an altar and working with images of the deity and things that represent her or him, stones, colors, images, candles, etc. So when you build your altar, what do you do with it? How does it serve you? For me, my altar reminds me that I have to do the work, every time I look at it. If you are petitioning the Goddess for something, for love, for sex, are you simply asking for her favor, or do you have a plan to get there? When you ask for a gift from her, what do you give her in return?
Building an altar is in essence making a space for someone in your home. You want it to be beautiful, comfortable, and you want to offer hospitality. Much has been written about ways to make offerings to the Gods, and certainly Aphrodite has fine tastes, appreciating among other things honey, apples, jewels, and champagne (once she has one of my necklaces it is hard to get it back). It seems only proper, if you are asking for a favor, to give something in return, so in thinking about the nature of your offerings remember that you are building a relationship here. Do you like it when your friends come and dump all their problems on you and never reciprocate with a kind shoulder or warm heart? Do you become frustrated when your friends have the same behavioral patterns and issues that never seem to change, that never seem to get their real attention? As I’ve noted, people frequently come to Aphrodite in crisis, and because she IS Love and has her arms open wide, she will give and give, but is this the dynamic you want? When you invite a deity into your life and make a space for her or him, you are generally inviting change. So what commitment can you make to change as your offering to the deity? What is your commitment to this new relationship? What can you actually give back? If you are new to working with Aphrodite, may I suggest that you think about what your needs are with the relationship, and be very concrete about what you plan to do to bring about what it is you want. State your committment, and make it sacred.