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ARTICLES - STUDENT PAPERS - LINDA R. BIRCH
Linda R. Birch
Kepler College BA program
Topic: Summer/Fall 2000 Final Project
Faculty advisor: Rob Hand
October 2000

The Evolution of Venus

From Mythological Goddess to Astrological Influence of Ancient Civilizations

Making a wish on the first evening star is a very old tradition.  Men have been fascinated with this inspiring light for 5000 years or more.   We know today that this star is actually the planet we call Venus but there was a time when it was thought to be the home of the great goddess.  “It was the subject of one of the first substantial extant body of omens, and its goddess, the Sumerian Inanna (Akkadian Ishtar) was the most important single female deity” (1).  Venus as a goddess in fact existed in all western cultures, in various forms.  Her worship is evident in pre-literate artifacts as the mother figure.  Ancient Mesopotamian artwork also shows an awareness of Venus as the brightest of our ‘stars’.  They gave it status over other stars, and correspondingly the associated goddess was given status over other gods.  Originally part of the spiritual triad along with the Sun and Moon, Venus went through several evolutions as she was assimilated throughout the Middle East and West of the ancient world.  Though goddess myths of the various cultures contained certain similarities, the planet Venus was not always identified with the great goddess of those myths.  It will be shown that the image of the indigenous Venus goddesses and hence the astrological characteristics associated with planet Venus, altered considerably as astrology spread from Babylon to Rome.

Sumerian

In Sumer, the earliest of known civilizations, the written language was born.  Surviving cuneiform tablets detail the beliefs and mythology of the Sumerian people through stories, the oldest known of which involved the goddess Inanna who was called “Queen of Heaven”.  Daughter of Enki, the god of wisdom, her temple resided in the city of Uruk (2).  The following hymn, one of seven, is dedicated to her.

“The Lady of the Evening” (3)

At the end of the day, the Radiant Star, the Great Light that fills the sky,
The Lady of the Evening appears in the heavens.
The people in all the lands lift their eyes to her.
The men purify themselves; the women cleanse themselves.
The ox in his yoke lows to her.
The sheep stir up the dust in their fold.
All the living creatures of the steppe,
The four-footed creatures of the high steppe,
The lush gardens and orchards, the green reeds and trees,
The fish of the deep and the firs in the heavens-
My Lady makes them all hurry to their sleeping places.
The living creatures and the numerous people of Sumer kneel before her.
Those chosen by the old women prepare great platters of food and drink for her.
The Lady refreshes herself in the land.
There is great joy in Sumer.
The young man makes love with his beloved.
My Lady looks in sweet wonder from heaven.
The people of Sumer parade before the holy Inanna.
Inanna, the Lady of the Evening, is radiant.
I sing your praises, holy Inanna.
The Lady of the Evening is radiant on the horizon.

This poem clearly shows that the Sumerians associated Inanna with the planet Venus, referring to her as ‘the Radiant Star...on the horizon’.

We know from the discovery of the Venus tablet of Amisaduqa that the Mesopotamians had charted the planets’ cycles.  The Venus tablet omens are “based on the first and last visibilities of Venus, each of which will occur twice in one of the planet’s 584-day synodic cycles.  The omens are grouped into eight-year cycles” (4).  Although the tablet was written well after the Sumerian period, during the reign of the Akkadians, the mythology of Inanna demonstrates that the Sumerians were aware of Venus’ periods of invisibility.  These dips below the horizon were thought to be Inanna’s visits to the underworld.  As Anthony Aveni states, “Implications of the descent of Venus into the underworld are an integral part of ancient Middle Eastern star lore.  From these the Greeks and Romans acquired their image of Venus as the love goddess” (5). 

“The Descent of Inanna” (6)

    Inanna, “from the great above” wanted to visit her sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. Before leaving Inanna instructs her messenger Ninshubur to wait three days for her return.  If she did not Ninshubur was to visit the other gods and ask them to intervene on Inanna’s behalf.  Then Inanna adorns herself with of royal clothes and jewels and descends to the underworld.  As she approaches the first of seven gates she is told by Neti the gatekeeper that by instructions from Ereshkigal and law of the underworld, Inanna must give up one of her garments at each gate.  As she passes through each gate she is stripped of her clothing and jewels until finally at the seventh gate she is naked.  Then brought before her sister Ereshkigal and the seven judges of the underworld, they turn the “eyes of death” upon her and hang Inanna’s corpse upon a stake.

   After three days pass, Ninshubur hastens to the gods as instructed but Enlil (the god of air) and Nanna (the moon god) refuse to intervene.   Enki (water or wisdom god) however, consents to help.  He creates two emissaries from the dirt beneath his fingernails who travel below and sprinkle water and food of life on the dead goddess sixty times.  The magic works, Inanna is awakened and departs quickly collecting her garments as she passes back through each of the gates

    According to the law of the nether world, no one may return from there without providing a substitute, so Inanna is accompanied by demons who are to carry back the substitute she will provide.  Inanna and her escort come to her own city of Erech and find her children mourning her and the servants awaiting her.  But her husband Dumuzi has usurped her power and taken over her throne, living high in her absence.  When Dumuzi refuses to humble himself before her, Inanna names him to take her place in the nether world.

   As god of vegetation, Dumuzis’ absence brings chaos and desolation upon the land.  In time Inanna, lamenting the loss of her husband, decides to descend into the nether world once more to rescue Dumuzi.  A bargain is struck and Dumuzi is allowed to return with Inanna to the land of the living.

This myth reveals aspects of the goddess that will become familiar as we compare the ancient Venuses.  Inanna was the first of the gods of surviving mythology to die and rise again.  She was also an essential part of the first of the seasonal myths wherein the fertility goddess loses a loved one (the vegetation god) to the underworld, and wins his return after a season of destruction.  Over the next several thousand years, Inanna’s title of “Queen of Heaven” would be attached to goddesses of many other names.  The following story demonstrates additional aspects of this goddess.

“The Tablets of Destiny” (7)

“Inanna wishes to confer the blessings of civilization upon her own city, Erech.  In order to do this she must acquire the ‘me’ (a Sumerian word which appears to denote the same power as that which is conferred by the possession of the Akkadian ‘tablets of destiny’).  The ‘me’ are in the hands of Enki, the god of wisdom.  Accordingly, Inanna journeys to Eridu where Enki dwells in his house of the Apsu, the sweet-water abyss.  Enki receives his daughter Inanna hospitably and makes a great feast for her.  When he gets merry with wine he promises her all kinds of gifts, including the ‘me’ or divine decrees.  Inanna receives the gifts with joy and loads them on her bark, ‘the boat of heaven’, and sets sail for Erech.  When Enki recovers from his orgy he realizes that the ‘me’ are missing from their accustomed place.  On discovering his loss Enki sends his messenger Isimud with instructions to recover them.  Seven times he attempts to do so, but each time Ninshubur, Inanna’s vizier, foils him.  So the goddess brings to Erech the blessings of civilization.” 

The significance of the ‘me’ was that whichever god possessed the ‘tablets of destiny’ had the power of controlling the order of the universe.  It is seen in several Mesopotamian myths that that the tablets were stolen or taken by force to obtain this power.  When Inanna took possession of them she became the most powerful of deities.

Babylonian

With the settlement of the Akkadians in Sumerian territory, Inanna’s name changed to Ishtar.   “Daughter of the moon god, Sin she was called ‘the shining one’ and her star was ‘the most brilliant of the stars’.  Titled ‘the lady of heaven and earth’, Ishtar was invoked as ‘the goddess of love and fertility and the personification of womanhood’” (8).  Note that it is not unusual to see this contraction of parentage with Inanna & Ishtar.  Both versions existed according to interpreters and historians (9).  However, it is clear that the image of Inanna had not changed along with her name, she was still ‘Venus’ and according to Aveni, Babylonians worshiped her “feminine sensuousness”.

Ishtar is clothed with pleasure and love
She is laden with vitality, charm and voluptuousness.
In lips she is sweet; life is in her mouth.
At her appearance rejoicing becomes full.
She is glorious; veils are thrown over her head.
Her figure is beautiful; her eyes are brilliant. (10)

Though the myth of Ishtar is nearly identical to the ‘Descent of Inanna’, Ishtar assumed a somewhat more hostile characteristic as S.H. Hooke describes:

“In the Babylonian version of the descent of Ishtar to the land of no return, we have a description of the failure of all sexual fertility caused by her absence. ‘The bull springs not upon the cow; the ass impregnates not the jenny; in the street the man impregnates not the maiden’. When Ishtar knocks at the gate of the underworld she threatens to batter down the gate if she is not admitted, and to set free the dead who are in the underworld” (11).

            O gatekeeper, open thy gate,
            Open thy gate that I may enter!
            If thou openest not the gate so that I cannot enter,
            I will smash the door, I will shatter the bolt,
            I will smash the doorpost, I will move the doors,
            I will raise up the dead, eating the living,
            So that the dead will outnumber the living.
(12)

In the evolutionary course of this myth, the fertility and warrior aspects of Ishtar were emphasized as well as the increasing importance of the descent of Tammuz as it related to the death and rebirth of vegetation.

After the loss of her lover Tammuz, Ishtar was seen in the evolving mythology as the consort to Marduk, king of gods.  In this capacity Ishtar assisted in establishing law and order.  She was also called upon for “assistance in the cause of righteous battle, especially in the struggle to help the downtrodden and oppressed” (13).

>From mythological and astrological viewpoints Inanna/Ishtar was capable of extremes of character, from pure love & blessings upon land to vengeance, anger and destruction.  This duality seems to have begun with astronomical recognition of the planet Venus in her opposing aspects.  In the Akkadian texts Venus was seen initially as 2 different stars.  As evening star she was called Beltan (our lady) and as the morning star she was called Dilbat (the herald).   It was only later through astronomical advances that Venus came to be known as both morning and evening star and was named for Inanna (14). 

As explained by Anthony Aveni, the rising and setting of Venus (the planet) inspired opposing personality characteristics in the myths of Ishtar the goddess.

 “Evening Ishtar came to symbolize the goddess of love we traditionally associate with Venus.  She was the power that attracts the sexes to each other – calm, peaceful, and placid – satisfying in her effect.  But the morning after offers a different set of circumstances.  Then a romantic affair can be perceived as merely lustful.  The Ishtar of the dawn skies, who once smiled at the pleasures of love, now glared with abhorrence.  Those who worshiped her in the morning would be disposed more to the love of war than flesh” (15).

Aveni goes on to say that mythologically Ishtar was uniquely unsatisfied with a single spouse.  “She gave herself away on impulse to heroic men and gods alike.  This behavior made her omens equally diverse; they portend war or famine on the one hand, fertility on the other” (16). 

“Venus in the month Tebet Rises (?). Rain
at sunset.  The king establishes his hostile arms
in the land.  The troops (march).
   Venus in the month Sebat (makes) a rising
(nipkha) in
sereti..  The crops of the land
flourish.”
(17)

It appears that Babylonian astrological omens could assign either type of outcome to Venus rising depending on its position by constellation month.  But, to understand how that position would affect them, their astrologers divided the sky into 3 longitudinal areas or zones.

“When a wanderer (planet) entered a given sky zone (way of Ea, way of Enlil etc.) its omen pertained to the land assigned to that zone; for example, Venus first rising in Anu would bring (generally) an omen of abundance to the land east of the river.  As we might expect, the message often was coded in the metaphor of sexual fulfillment accompanied by moral overtones…One omen reads:

When Venus stands high, pleasure of copulation.
When Venus stands in her place, upraising of the hostile forces,
‘fullness’ of the women shall there be in the land”
(18).

On the whole though, Babylonian astrology considered Venus/Ishtar to be a positive sign.  Robert Powell says, “At (Marduks’) side was his divine consort Ishtar, ‘the lady of heaven and earth,’ who was also regarded as beneficent, and whose planet, Venus, therefore became the lesser benefic in astrology” (19).   Nick Campion concurs, “Venus’ mere appearance was often considered to be benefic” (20).  

“In month XI, 15th day, Venus disappeared in the west.  Three days it stayed away, then on the 18th day it became visible in the east.  Springs will open and Adad will bring his rain and Ea his floods.  Messages of reconciliation will be sent from King to King” (21).

Persian

Through the reign of the Assyrians and the conquering Persians, the Babylonian practice of astrological omens continued and evolved.  The great goddess associated with Venus was known by many names and  was consistently characterized as the great mother, lover and fertility goddess.  Inanna/Ishtar of Babylon was Astarte to the Syrians (who were once identified with the Assyrians) and was known as Anahita to the Persians.  The following passage by John Hinnells describes their view of her:

“In Persia the goddess Ardvi Sura Anahita, the strong undefiled waters, is the source of all waters upon earth.  She is the source of all fertility, purifying the seed of all males, sanctifying the womb of all females and purifying the milk in the mother’s breast.  >From her heavenly home she is the source of the cosmic ocean.  She is described as the strong and bright, tall and beautiful, pure and nobly born.  As befits her noble birth she wears a golden crown with eight rays and a hundred stars, a golden mantle and a golden necklace around her beautiful neck.

In Armenia she was described as the ‘glory and life of Armenia, the giver of life, the mother of all wisdom, the benefactress of the entire human race, the daughter of the great and mighty Aramazda (Ahura Mazda)’” (22).  

Anthony Aveni adds the following, “Ishtar’s Persian counterpart, Anahita, was the essence of fruitfulness.  Strong, bright and beautiful, she was adorned with gold, yet she was often portrayed as a seductive goddess, tightly girdled to emphasize her breasts, a symbol of the practice of temple prostitution” (23).

Astrologically the Persians differed from the Assyrians in a lack of political usage of the science, but their religious beliefs did have a subtle effect on the astrologers’ perception of the planets.  The Zoroastrian concept of good versus evil began to be seen in the astrological characteristics of planetary omens. From approx. 6th century BCE, planets were seen as benefic and malefic, rather than either depending on the season or rising time, and Venus became overwhelmingly benefic (24).

Greek

“When the Greeks learnt from the Babylonians to distinguish the five wandering stars from those that form the constellations…they consecrated each one to a divinity” (from the Greek pantheon).  “Ishtar, the great goddess of love and fertility, naturally became Aphrodite” (25).   This quote from Robert Powell perfectly states the attitudes of the Greeks on their adoption of astrology.  It would be assimilated to their understanding, not necessarily in agreement with the Chaldeans (Babylonian astrologers) who brought it to them.  Once the link between the goddess and the planet Venus was introduced to Greece, they assigned rulership of the planet to the feminine form that best suited the Greek ideal.  As Powell goes on to explain:

“It is only in her capacity as the goddess of love and beauty that Aphrodite corresponds to the Babylonian Ishtar.  For the Babylonians, Ishtar was consort of Marduk (Zeus); for the Greeks, Aphrodite was married to Ares.  Babylonians turned to Ishtar in the cause of righteous war, whereas the Greeks invoked the goddess Athena in going to battle for a just cause rather than Aphrodite, who was looked upon as the embodiment of everything feminine and was decidedly un-warlike in nature” (26). 

What was a multi-faceted goddess, who ruled the planet Venus, the Greeks splintered into three parts, only one of which came to be associated with the planet astrologically.  Ishtar’s aspects of fertility/mother and patron to warriors became associated with Demeter and Athena respectively.

Athena was a Mycenean goddess and protector of the home.  She later evolved in status to become protectress of the city-state Athens, and thus obtained a warrior type image. She was additionally considered the goddess of intellectual wisdom, a similar aspect to Inanna/Ishtar, keeper of the “me”.

The fertility/mother aspect of the goddess was present in Demeter, though there was a crossover of these qualities in several of the Greek pantheon (27).  There was a clear correlation however, between the Demeter story and the ‘Descent of Inanna’ myth. 

It was at Eleusis that Demeter came to search for her daughter Persephone (also known as Kore) who had been abducted by Hades, god of the underworld.  In her despair, the sorrowing mother neglected the earth and it ceased to be fruitful.  Zeus had to intervene before the earth became completely barren and mankind died of famine.  A bargain was struck with Hades allowing Persephone to return to her mother, but she was required to return and spend 3 months of each year in the underworld where she would rule as queen. 

Eleusis became the earliest cult center of Demeter where she was worshiped as the earth goddess and Persephone as the life of the crops (28).  The parallel of Demeter and Persephone to Ishtar and Tammuz is evident in that the vegetation god/goddess was returned to the mourning fertility goddess after a bargain was struck with the god of the underworld. 

Though the Greeks did not recognize the mother/fertility aspect of Ishtar in Aphrodite, their understanding of the goddesses’ roles are demonstrated in this fragment of Aeschylus’ play the Danaids.  Aphrodite is the speaker in this speech:

“The pure Sky longs passionately to pierce the Earth, and passion seizes the Earth to win her marriage.  Rain falling from the bridegroom sky makes pregnant the Earth.  Then brings she forth for mortals pasture of flocks and corn, Demeter’s gift, and the fruitfulness of trees is brought to completion by the dew of their marriage.  Of these things am I part-cause” (29).

Where Demeter rules the fertility of the land and as an earth/corn goddess brings the crops, Aphrodite is seen as the cause of marriage and passion.

Aphrodite is thought to have originated at Paphos on the island of Cyprus, her major center of worship.  The Greeks alternatively called her the ‘Cyprian’.

“Homer and Hesiod differed in their account of Aphrodite’s origins; Hesiod said that she arose from the sea foam which gathered around the genitals of Uranus when Cronus cast them down; Homer makes her the daughter of Zeus and Dione, and therefore a respectable member of the Olympian pantheon.  She was in fact an ancient goddess of the eastern Mediterranean and can be equated with the Asian goddess Astarte.  She was worshipped in Greece in two different manifestations, Aphrodite Urania (the higher, purer love) and Aphrodite Pandemos (sensual lust).  Her worship was generally austere but it is interesting to note that prostitutes regarded her as their patron, and that there was a sacred prostitution in the cult at Corinth” (30).  

The above two manifestations correlate very well with the dual names of Venus/Inanna.  Aphrodite Urania and Beltan are the beneficent evening star.  Aphrodite Pandemos and Dilbat are the amoral morning star.  The Greeks had an astronomical set of names for the dual aspects of the planet Venus as well, “referring to it as Phosphoros in the morning and Hesperos in the evening, even though they did not distinguish two separate celestial bodies” (31). 

In the 5th and 6th centuries BCE, the Greeks were just beginning to develop astronomy but, they had no astrology prior to Chaldean influence.  The philosophers of 4th century, obviously impressed with the Babylonian science encouraged the Greeks to believe in celestial gods.  “Plato argued for the divinity of the heavenly bodies, who were to be worshipped for the eternal mathematical beauty of their regular movements” (32).  However it would be another two centuries before astrology was widely accepted.  In the beginning, the Greeks accepted astrology as it was practiced by the Babylonians.  Robert Powell writes, “initially the Greeks remained true to the principle of seeing the planets as the abodes of divine beings.  Venus was (designated as) ‘the star of Aphrodite’”.  However, by the Hellenic period the Greeks were using their scientific skills to study and revolutionize the practice of astrology.  Powell goes on to explain, “Sometime in the Hellenic period of Alexandria, the rationalization of horoscopic astrology adapted the naming of the planets so that they were then referred to by the names of the gods associated with them.  By 2nd century BCE planet Venus was simply called Aphrodite” (33).  In the course of Greek adaptation of Babylonian astrology, they gave the planets characteristics from the Greek pantheon of gods, associations that are still in use two thousand years later.  The Greek myths therefore seem to be the source information for the characteristics and rulerships connected with the gods, and hence the associations and indications made by the planets in the horoscope.

The myths of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, described her as beautiful beyond compare, “bringer of all delights, all sensual joys” (34).  They also demonstrated her volatile temperament, she was defiant, jealous and possessive.  Displaying a personality similar to the dissatisfied Ishtar, Aphrodite is seen in the following myth as an unfaithful wife.

            Though Zeus married Aphrodite to Hephaestos (Vulcan), she was discontent and preferred the fiery passions of Ares, the war god.  With him she had a long affair and several children.  When at last Hephaestos discovered his wife’s infidelity he was so angered that he forged chains of gold and hid them away.  When next Aphrodite and Ares came together, Hephaestos released the magic net of chain upon their bed and they were trapped.  The Olympians were summoned to laugh at the lovers and humiliate Aphrodite.  Neptune finally intervened to have her and Ares released from the ‘chains of love’ (35).

In this Aphrodite myth we see repeated the Inanna/Ishtar theme of the lover (and vegetation god) lost to the underworld.

The wife of King Cinyras of Cyprus unwisely bragged that her daughter Smyrna was more beautiful than Aphrodite.  To get revenge the goddess put a spell on Smyrna, who fell in love with her father, climbed into his bed while he was in a drunken stupor, and became pregnant by him.  When Cinyras discovered what had happened, he pursued Smyrna with a sword.  Aphrodite transformed the girl into a myrrh tree; the sword split the tree and out tumbled the child Adonis.

Persephone, the Queen of the Dead, brought up Adonis who soon fell in love with him.  This provoked an argument between Persephone and Aphrodite, both of whom now desired the young man.  The matter was given over for judgment to the Muses, who decreed that Adonis would spend a third of the year with Aphrodite, a third with Persephone and a third by himself, hunting on the hilltops.

But Aphrodite was a greedy goddess and she used the arts of love to make sure that Adonis would disregard the sacred agreement and spend all his time with her.  Furious, Persephone told Ares, Aphrodite’s lover, that he had a serious rival in Adonis.  Aries transformed himself into a boar and gored Adonis to death on the slopes of Mount Lebanon where Anemones sprang from his blood.  Still unwilling to relinquish Adonis to the Queen of Hades, Aphrodite appealed to Zeus who granted Adonis equal time above and below the earth (36).

Aphrodite’s qualities as seen through these myths included love and beauty, anger and revenge, vanity, greed, manipulation, passion and desire.  Consequently these were some of the qualities that Greek astrologers came to associate with the planet Venus.

Egyptian

In Egypt the goddess of love was thought to be Hathor.  According to Wallis Budge this ancient Egyptian goddess was known as the ‘Mother of every god and goddess’ and ‘Queen of Heaven’ (37).  This is a clear correspondence to Inanna/Ishtar.  In addition “The Sinai Tablets show that Hebrew workers in the Egyptian mines of Sinai about 1500 BC worshipped Hathor, whom they identified with the ‘Lady of Byblos’, Astarte” (38).   It is possible that Hathor was a precursor to Isis but there are differences in their characters that suggest they were more akin to Aphrodite and Demeter.  At the very least Hathor had a closer association to Aphrodite than the Greeks perceived as the following ‘Hymn to Hathor’ shows.  It is dated between 2428 and 2250 BC.

“Hymn to Hathor” (39)

Let me worship the Golden One to honor her Majesty
and exalt the Lady of Heaven;
Let me give adoration to Hathor
And songs of joy to my heavenly Mistress!
I beg her to hear my petitions
That she send me my mistress now!
And she came herself to see me!
What a great thing that was when it happened!
I rejoiced, I was glad, I was exalted,
From the moment they said, “Oh, look at her!
See, here she comes!” – and the young men bowing
Through their enormous passion for her.
Let me consecrate breath to my Goddess
That she give me my Love as a gift!
It is four days now I have prayed in her name;
Let her be with me today!

This hymn refers to Hathor as the “Lady of Heaven”, a similarity to the ‘Queen of Heaven’ title of Inanna/Ishtar, and entreats her as the giver of love and embodiment of passion, which is the image of Aphrodite.  However, when the Greek astrologers came to Alexandria, Hathor was not the goddess they associated with the planet Venus.

The Egyptians in fact did not associate their gods with the planets.  “The works on astrology that came out of Egypt were actually written by the Hellenic Greeks” (40). Few literary references to the planets by Egyptians have been found.  One reference finds Venus called ‘the god of the morning’ another ‘the star of Isis’ (41). Though not the goddess of love per se, the Greeks associated Isis with their Aphrodite and astrologically assigned her to planet Venus.  The myth of Isis however, reveals she has some connections to the Middle Eastern goddess myths.

Osiris and Isis were brother and sister, husband and wife.  Their mother was Nut, goddess of the Sky, their father was Geb, god of the earth.  As king and queen of Egypt in the first age of the world, these two gods bestowed on humankind the gifts of civilization.  Osiris taught agriculture, rites and laws to the people while Isis brought medicines, magical incantations, art, music and justice.  Their success as rulers and great love as mates caused jealousy in their brother Set, who devised a plan of revenge against Osiris.  Having constructed an elaborate sarcophagus, Set tricked Osiris into lying inside it.  Then sealing the box, Set and his accomplices threw the sarcophagus into the Nile where it floated out to sea, coming to rest on the shores of Byblos.

Meanwhile the mourning Isis sets out in search of her beloved husband.  Following the shoreline to Byblos she finally finds the chest and loads it onto a barge to take home again.  Once returned however, Set finds the coffin and body of Osiris and cuts the corpse into pieces, scattering them throughout the land of Egypt.

Isis renews her search and eventually recovers the pieces of her lost husband.  Putting the limbs together she performs magic ceremonies over the body and Osiris is restored to life.  The risen Osiris does not remain on earth however, he is to become the king of the ‘western region’, the place of the departed spirits.

In the process of performing magic on Osiris, Isis has taken an essence from him that impregnates her.  She then gives birth to the sun god Horus, who becomes Orsiris’ avenger. (42)

There are certain commonalties that relate this myth to those of Greece and Mesopotamia.  Those myths often spoke of ruling gods that are both brother/sister and husband/wife.  In Babylon Marduk & Ishtar were born of Enki, in the Greek pantheon Zeus & Hera were children of Cronos.  There was also the common theme of the gods giving the gift of civilization to mortals.  Inanna did so in Uruk by taking possession of the ‘me’.  Then there was the repeated story of the vegetation/agricultural god who died and was reborn, spending at least some of the year in the underworld.   The reasons why the Greeks associated Isis with Venus are not clear, but it is interesting to see how the myths of Isis correspond to the goddess myths of the East where her first association with the planet Venus took place.

Around 80 BC the worship of Isis found its way to Rome. The following is an excerpt from ‘The Golden Ass’ a Latin novel of the 2nd century CE.  The fact that her worship is included in a novel of the period speaks of the popularity of the Roman Isis cults.

“Apuleius’ Vision of Isis” (43)

“Here I am, Lucius, roused by your prayers.  I am the mother of the world of nature, mistress of all the elements, first-born in this realm of time.  I am the loftiest of deities, queen of departed spirits, foremost of heavenly dwellers, the single embodiment of all gods and goddesses.  I order with my nod the luminous height of heaven, the healthy sea-breezes, the sad silences of the infernal dwellers. The whole world worships this single godhead under a variety of shapes and liturgies and titles.  In one land the Phrygians, first-born of men, hail me as the Pessiunutian mother of the gods; elsewhere the native dwellers of Attica call me Cecropian Minerva; in other climes the wave-tossed Cypriots name me Paphian Venus; the Cretan archers, Dictynna Diana; the trilingual Sicilians, Ortygian Proserpina; theEleusinians, the ancient goddess Ceres; some call me Juno, others Bellona, others Hecate, and others still Rhamnusia.  But the peoples on whom the rising sun-god shines with his first rays – eastern and western Ethiopians, and the Egyptians who flourish with their time-honored learning - worship me with the liturgy that is my own, and call me by my true name, which is queen Isis.”

This passage demonstrates the Romans shift toward belief in a single godhead.  Naming several of the popular goddesses of surrounding lands, it is claimed they are all one in Isis.  As this ideology shift to monotheism fueled the spread of Christianity. However, Isis did not fall but was absorbed into the Christian faith, becoming a representation of Mother Mary.  The image of Isis on a throne nursing her son, the sun god, was replicated in the same image of Mary holding the baby Jesus, and Mary came to be called by the goddess title “Queen of Heaven”.

Roman

Roman author Lucretius wrote “Mother of Aeneas and his race, delight of men and god, life-giving Venus, it is your doing that under the wheeling constellations of the sky all nature teems with life” (44).  The Romans did not always think of Venus in these terms.   Originally an Italian garden goddess, Venus underwent major transformations, beginning with influences from the Greeks.  Having adopted a council of 12 Etruscan gods, the Romans identified them with the Greek pantheon and Venus became likened to Aphrodite, the goddess of love (45).  Like the Greeks and Mesopotamians before them, the Romans named Venus for her dual aspects, Lucifer (“the light-bearer”) in the morning and Vesper (at night) (46).

“Initially she was for the Romans a goddess of all that is beautiful and blossoming in nature, and in human cultural life she bestowed joyfulness, beauty, and charm.  She was especially the goddess of fruitfulness and growth of vegetation, exerting a beneficial and healing influence.  Through her identification with Aphrodite, Venus then became for the Romans first and foremost the goddess of love.  Thus Manilius wrote of the abode of Venus ‘among the stars, placing in the very face of heaven, as it were, her beauteous features, wherewith she rules the affairs of men.  To the abode is fittingly given the power to govern wedlock, the bridal chamber and the marriage torch” (47).

Astrology was introduced to Rome by way of imported slaves.  Though at first suspicious of the foreign art, the Romans soon embraced and popularized astrology like no other nation had before.  Where the Greeks consistently changed and adapted all new ideas, the Romans were able to accept the form of astrology brought to them without altering it.   

“Like the Babylonians and the early Greeks who designated the planets as the dwelling places of the gods, the Romans too originally referred to each of the planets as “the star of” the god concerned (in this case belonging to the Roman pantheon).  For example, Venus was ‘stella Veneris’ (‘star of Venus’, i.e., the star of the goddess Venus) and it was only later - around the time of Christ – that the more convenient shortened expression ‘Venus’ was adopted.  This difference implies that earlier the planet was seen as the abode of the goddess Venus and later the planet itself was beheld as Venus.  In this way the planets became substituted for the gods… just as (it had) among Greek astrologers” (48).

This eventual melding of Venus the goddess and Venus the planet is emphasized in the following materialistic explanation of Venusian fertility from the Roman historian Pliny.

“Being so close to the horizon at both of its first risings, Venus scatters a genital dew that fills the sexual organs of the earth and stimulates those of animals.  It is this association that ties the Great White Light to the sexual act and is responsible for nighttime sexual reproduction” (49). 

Interestingly, Pliny’s theory of Venus’ influence on animals and humans sounds very similar to the effects of the “Lady of the Evening”, in the Hymns to Inanna/Ishtar.

Another correspondence to the eastern goddess was the Venus as seen by Caesar in the 1st century BCE.  According to Aveni,

“Julius Caesar was very attached to Venus.  He often spoke of his divine descent from her.  He wore her figure on his ring, ordered her effigy printed on coins, even built and dedicated a temple to her as part of a Venus cult he initiated.  She was on the one hand his Venus Victrix, the mother of victory in battle, Caesar’s watchword when he went to war, and on the other Venus Genetrix, mother of all men” (50).

What appears to be a departure from accepted views of the nature of Venus of the Greco-Roman Empires is in actuality a stunning correspondence to the great goddess of Mesopotamia, long associated with the planet Venus.  Seen as a mother and patron to warriors once more, we might expect to see a corresponding shift in astrological associations with Venus.  However, no variations from the traditional Hellenic Greek Venusian meanings were made at that time.  In the Liber Primus, Firmicus Maternus briefly described the astrological characteristics bestowed by Venus, “Venus (makes men) pleasure-loving, charming (and) handsome” (51).

When the political crises of the 1st and 2nd centuries of the new millennium fueled radical changes in religious and philosophical beliefs, the old Greco-Roman gods became transformed or fell away.  Christianity and Eastern mystery cults took root as a widening belief in a single god force, rather than a pantheon of gods changed the way the universe was viewed and understood.  As previously seen, Isis took on the role of a feminine godhead.  Other cults promoted Mithra as the eastern version of a supreme god, while Christianity’s belief in God the ‘Father’ grew in popularity.  Astrology, having been associated with the Greek pantheon, now needed to defend its credibility by defining itself in new scientific and philosophical terms.  One of those developments was the Neo-Platonic philosophy.   Neo-Platonists took Plato’s idea of the seven spheres (planetary orbits) and explained how humans received their characteristics upon descent to earth (birth) and ascent to the ethers (death).  Here are two examples as they were applied to Venus.

-  “The soul having fallen down from the Zodiac and Galaxy into the series of spheres…develops the separate motions, which it is to exercise.  In the sphere…of Venus, the motion of desire – which they call to epithumetikon” (52).

-  “At death each mortal human body dissolves into its elements, but the divine spark ascends through the sphere of the seven governors and gives up that aspect of itself…at the third (zone) the illusion of longing (Venus)” (53).

Ptolemy used scientific explanations equating Plato’s systems of elements to planetary astrological qualities, and categorized the planets using a creative set of rationalizations.  He equated the element fire with heat, water with moisture, air with dryness and, we presume, earth with cold.

“To Venus also the same temperate quality belongs, although its exists conversly; since the heat she produces by her vicinity to the Sun is not so great as the moisture which she generates by the magnitude of her light, and by appropriating to herself the moist vapours of the earth, in the same manner that the moon does” (54).

Ptolemy classified Venus as benefic in nature and of feminine sex.  He considered Venus a nocturnal planet with a particular familiarity with the places of Taurus and Libra, exalted in Pisces while in her fall  was in Virgo (55).  Though astrology of the Latin writings emphasized philosophic and scientific rationalizations, this last classification was traditional by Babylonian standards.  The concept of an exalted placement of planets was their idea, referred to as bit nisirti (56).

* * * * *

What else is left of the traditional astrology of Mesopotamian astrology?  Their system of omens changed to horoscopic astrology and the planets took on meanings that the Greeks gave them. This then became the new ‘tradition’.  But what if the missing parts of eastern meanings should in fact be included?  The goddesses known as Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, Hathor/Isis and Venus shared common qualities that the Greeks did not recognize when they altered this ancient system.  What if astrologically Venus should still represent fertility and motherhood as well as love and beauty?  Does she still indicate the evidence of civilization with justice, literature, music, medicine and the arts?  As ‘Mother of Men’ and ‘Queen of Heaven’ the Greeks perhaps discounted the importance of this planet when they devised the horoscopic meanings of Venus.  Admittedly these ‘missing’ associations were assigned elsewhere, to other planets, but if astrology’s origins are to be honored perhaps modern research should rethink Venus.  The great goddess, brightest ‘starlight’ of the sky, is the same light it was 5000 years ago.  We may have underestimated her power by continuing to use a limited viewpoint of the Greek culture, one that did not understand her complexity or her fullness. 


Endnotes:

(1)    Nicholas Campion, The Planets in Mesopotamian Astrology, Kepler College symposium material 2000, p. 4

(2)    “Uruk (the Biblical Erech) was ruled by the sky god An and the love goddess Ninsi-anna (the Lady of the Defenses of Heaven) in Semitic Sumeria or Inanna (Queen of Heaven) to non-Semites”.  Anthony Aveni, Conversing with the Planets, p. 51

(3)    Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth, 1983; Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, in “Goddess – A Celebration of Art and Literature” edited by Jalaja Bonheim, p. 84

(4)    Nicholas Campion, Babylonian Astrology: Its Origin and Legacy in Europe, Kepler College course material, 2000.

(5)    Anthony Aveni, p. 53

(6)    Descent of Inanna” paraphrased from a combination of the following sources: S. H. Hooke, p. 20-22, Anthony Aveni, p. 54-55, Arial Guttman & Kenneth Johnson, p. 51

(7)    Samuel Henry Hooke, Middle Eastern Mythology, p. 28

(8)    Robert Powell, History of the Planets, p. 13

(9)    Nicholas Campion, The Planets in Mesopotamian Astrology, Kepler College symposium material 2000, p. 1

(10) “Hymn to Ishtar”, J. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 383; reprinted in “Conversing with the Planets” by Anthony Aveni, p. 51

(11)S.H. Hooke, p. 39-40

(12) J. Pritchard, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts”, pg107; reprinted by S.H. Hooke, Middle Eastern Mythology, p.40

(13)Powell, p. 13

(14)Ibid.,  p. 12.

(15)Aveni, p. 60

(16)Ibid., p. 61

(17)A. Sayce, Astronomy and Astrology, p. 199; printed in “Conversing with the Planets” by Anthony Aveni, p. 61.

(18)B. van der Waerden, Science Awakening II, p. 39; printed in “Conversing with the Planets” by Anthony Aveni, p. 53

(19)Powell, p. 20

(20)Nicholas Campion, The Planets in Mesopotamian Astrology, Kepler College Symposium material, 2000, p. 4

(21)Passage from the Venus Tablet of Amisaduqa, 1646-4626 BCE, from Mesopotamian Astrology 2,000 BC – O.A.D. by Nicholas Campion, p. 2

(22)Agathangelus, quoted by Gray, Foundations, p 59; reprinted in Persian Mythology by John R Hinnells, p. 32

(23)Aveni, p. 51

(24)Demetra George, Kepler College symposium lecture, 8/19/2000

(25)Powell, p. 14

(26)Ibid., p. 23

(27)Artemis was originally an All-mother goddess - protector of the young, animal and human alike.  Associated in cult with Demeter and Persephone “Herodotus says that Aeschylus actually called Artemis the daughter of Demeter, thus identifying her with Persephone the corn goddess”.  Guthrie says, “This was a goddess whom the Greeks must have found on every hand when they came to occupy Greece, Crete and parts of Asia Minor”.  He quotes Gilbert Murray from “Five Stages of Greek Religion”: “the tradition of a Northern conquering race, organized on a patriarchal monogamous system vehemently distinct from the matrilinear customs of the Aegean and Hittite races, with their polygamy and polyandry, their agricultural rites, sex-emblems and fertility-goddesses”.   Guthrie goes on to say that the Greeks adapted this All-mother goddess found in all the indigenous cultures they encountered, asserting aspects upon her that may have come from an existing ‘Mistress of Animals’ archetype.  “Though the name remained, the goddess whose primary characteristic had been her ever-fertile motherhood became the beautiful figure of the virgin huntress”.  Stripped of her mother aspect by the Hellenic period, Artemis became the Amazonian huntress.  ** Source: W.K.C. Guthrie, “The Greeks and their Gods”; Beacon Press 1955.

(28)W.K.C. Guthrie, p. 282-284

(29)Ibid., p. 54

(30)Richard Patrick, All Color Book of Greek Mythology, p. 53

(31)Aveni, p. 48

(32)Tester, p. 16

(33)Powell, p. 14

(34)Ariel Guttman & Kenneth Johnson, Mythic Astrology, p 42

(35)Ariel Guttman & Kenneth Johnson, p 44-46

(36)Ibid., p 50.

(37)Sir E.A. Wallis Budge, Gods of the Egyptians Vol. 1, New York: Dover Publications, 1969, p. 92-93; printed in Encyclopedia of Women’s Myth and Secret by Barbara Walker, p. 374

(38)William Powell Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1968; printed in Encyclopedia of Women’s Myth and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker; p. 375

(39)Translated by John L. Foster, “Hymn to Hathor” (“Prayer to Hathor as Goddess of Love”) from Hymns, Prayers and Songs; Society of Biblical Literature 1995, reprinted in “Goddess, A Celebration in Art and Literature”, edited by Jalaja Bonheim, p. 100

(40)Tester, p. 19

(41)Powell, p. 16

(42)Paraphrased from the following versions of Isis & Osiris: S.H. Hooke, “Mesopotamian Mythology” p. 67-68; Stewart Perowne, “Roman Mythology”, p. 87; “Goddess - A Celebration of Art and Literature”, as told by Robert Musil, 165-167

(43)Translated by P.G. Walsh, The Golden Ass, 1994; Reprinted in “Goddess, A Celebration in Art and Literature”, Edited by Jalaja Bonheim, p. 234

(44)The opening lines of Roman author Lucretius’s poem ‘On the Nature of the Universe’; Reprinted in, “Conversing with the Planets” by Anthony Aveni, p. 34

(45)Perowne, Stewart, Roman Mythology; p. 57-58

(46)Aveni, p. 48

(47)Powell, p. 28-29

(48)Ibid., p. 15-16

(49)Aveni, p. 52

(50)Ibid., p. 34

(51)Firmicus Maternus, Book 1 – Liber Primus; Rhys-Bram translation from Ancient Astrology, p. 14

(52)Macrobius on “the descent of the soul from the height of cosmos to the depths of earth”, Ascent and Descent of the Soul Quotes, Kepler College course material 2000, p. 9

(53)Poimandres, Passages from the Corpus Hermeticum, Ascent and Descent of the Soul Quotes, Kepler College course material 2000, p. 1

(54)Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos Book 1, Chapter IV p. 11

(55)Ibid., Chapters V, VI & VII, p. 12-13

(56)The bit nisirti, or ‘place of the secret’, of Venus was Anunitu (Pisces).  Planets “in its bit nisirti may have been privy to the divine council’s secret intentions, and by revealing these to the astrologers it enabled them to negotiate a favourable conclusion”.   “If Venus reached the place of the nisirtu, there will be good luck”.  References to Venus’ nisirtu were contained in the Enuma Anu Enlil.  **Nicholas Campion, “The Planets in Mesopotamian Astrology”, p. 2


Bibliography

Aveni, Anthony, Conversing with the Planets; Kodansha America, New York 1994

Bonheim, Jalaja, Goddess - A Celebration in Art and Literature, Fair Street Productions 1997

Campion, Nicholas, Introduction to the History of Astrology - Mesopotamian Astrology 2,000 BC – O.A.D.; website edition @ www.NickCampion.com

Guthrie, W.K.C., The Greeks and their Gods; Beacon Press Boston, paperback edition 1955

Guttman, Ariel and Johnson, Kenneth, Mythic Astrology; Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul MN 1998

Hinnells, John R., Persian Mythology; The Hamlyn Publishing Group, London – New York 1973

Hooke, S.H., Middle Eastern Mythology; Penguin Books 1963

Firmicus Maternus, Book 1 – Liber Primus; Rhys-Bram translation from Ancient Astrology pp. 11-30

Patrick, Richard, All Color Book of Greek Mythology; Octopus Books, London 1972

Ptolemy, Claudius, Tetrabiblos – Book 1; translated by J. M. Ashmand, New Edition

Perowne, Stewart, Roman Mythology; The Hamlyn Publishing Group, London – New York 1969

Powell, Robert, History of the Planets; ACS Publications, San Diego 1985

Tester, Jim, A History of Western Astrology; The Boydell Press, paperback edition 1996

Walker, Barbara G., Encyclopedia of Women’s Myth and Secrets; Castle Books, New Jersey 1996



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