The goddess Aphrodite represented for the Greeks the sacredness of beauty and sexuality – not the only aspect of the feminine, certainly, but an essential one.
And so, too, for civilization, in the Greek way of thinking about such things. We need ways to honor and to embody Aphrodite energy in our architecture, in the arts, the design of our parks, and in the quality of our relationships too. But where in our culture, are these values still expressed in conscious ways that heal our troubled souls?
I think a case could be made that, in the way our planet is suffering, we can tangibly see how Aphrodite is actually under siege. She is ignored, or more likely, actually debased, and so earth suffers under the weight of Aphrodite’s repression. Beauty is being exchanged for the ambitions of technology as Earth’s resources are extracted (raped?)at a perilous rate. The beautiful life in exchange for humankind’s thirst for profit and material success.
James Hillman addresses this in his book, Anima (1985):
Modern man has an accumulated debt to Aphrodite on which she is today exacting payments at a furious rate. It is as if she were actually demanding our souls for all the centuries that they were denied to her by Judeo-Christian repression. But we pay her back best in the true coin of Aphrodite. To pay her in the guise of soul-indulgences cheats the real cost. It is more comforting to visit her planetary house in the name of anima development than it is to suffer the venereal evils, entanglements, perversions, revenges, furies, and soporific pleasures for her sake alone. (p. 29)
Heavy duty stuff! Here’s the take-away for me though…
What if it is true that Aphrodite is actually in a state of revenge? Not debased to the point of inaction, but to the point of full-on counter-attack? We might see her revenge in the multiplication of porn-sites on the internet, making a semblance of Aphrodite easily accessible, but doing so in dark, illicit, and destructive ways. Aphrodite appearing now in divorce court in the form of “Exhibit A: The Facebook Account!” The spirit of Aphrodite acted-out in our addictions to all sorts of substances and things. Our culture values work for work’s sake, for ambition, for financial and material gain — but where has beauty and soul-filling sexuality gone?
Well, of course beauty never goes away. Beauty is eternal or archetypal if you will. It is spirit as well as body. But when Beauty’s value is shoved to the side in favor of overpowering the spiritual needs of the body, Beauty exacts a price in her own ways.
Christianity has to assume some of the blame here, as Hillman states: for centuries of treating the body as if the body itself is sinful, something to be ashamed of; and thus sex, too, got a bad rap for a long, long time – until Freud and Jung and Horney and others invited Aphrodite back into the consulting room and back into open-eyed culture, making what had become unconscious conscious once again.
We need Aphrodite. Not for her surface beauty alone, but for her substance. The beautiful life is a life worth living and tending. We honor Aphrodite when we visit museums and gardens or when we care for the textures and colors and shapes in our homes, in the clothes we wear and the foods we consume — good, healthy, delicious, sensual foods that is. We honor Aphrodite in marriage and in intimate relationships when sex is cherished. And as John Gottman (The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work) says, everything in marriage is sex — not just physical intimacy, but also the intimacy involved in sharing housework, in how we handle differences, and nurturing trust and friendship.
We honor Aphrodite, too, when, we do her bidding for the beauty of the earth and the cleanliness of our skies, and in the protection of our rivers and lakes and oceans. When we balance work and work’s rewards with the embodied joy we experience in deep and meaning-filled friendships; when in our communities we love the least ones along with the easily love-able, and when we fight for laws that protect earth’s beauty rather than ravaging her. In all these ways, and more, we turn Aphrodite’s revenge into Aphrodite’s smiles.