Linda R. Birch
Kepler College BA program
Topic: Summer/Fall 2000 Final Project
Faculty advisor: Rob Hand
The Evolution of Venus
From Mythological Goddess to Astrological Influence of
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.
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
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).
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
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”
>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
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 (?).
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
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:
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”
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”
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.
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).
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).
“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 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
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).
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.
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’
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 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
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
“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
“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
“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.
Nicholas Campion, The Planets in Mesopotamian Astrology, Kepler
College symposium material 2000, p. 4
“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
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,
Nicholas Campion, Babylonian Astrology: Its Origin and Legacy in
Europe, Kepler College course material, 2000.
Anthony Aveni, p. 53
“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
Samuel Henry Hooke, Middle Eastern Mythology, p. 28
Robert Powell, History of the Planets, p. 13
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,
(13)Powell, p. 13
(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,
(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,
(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
(28)W.K.C. Guthrie, p. 282-284
(29)Ibid., p. 54
(30)Richard Patrick, All Color Book of Greek Mythology,
(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
Aveni, Anthony, Conversing with the Planets; Kodansha America, New
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,
Ptolemy, Claudius, Tetrabiblos – Book 1; translated by J. M. Ashmand,
Perowne, Stewart, Roman Mythology; The Hamlyn Publishing Group, London
– New York 1969
Powell, Robert, History of the Planets; ACS Publications, San Diego
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
This paper is copyright © 2001