Friday, March 6 through Friday, April 17, 2009
What Is Venus Retrograde?
When Venus goes retrograde, she takes our hand and pulls us into the darkness of our relationships. A retrograde period of any planet is a retrospective of that planet’s themes. It is like going into the deep, dark cave of oneself in whatever area of life is covered by the planet that is retrograde. It is a time of moving backward, perhaps of going back to pick up pieces lost in the past. It is a retrieval, a turning inward, perhaps a letting-go. Since Venus’ domain is relationships, this turning inward will happen in that domain.
Inanna’s Descent To The Underworld
The retrograde journey of Venus is depicted in the Mesopotamian tale of the descent of Inanna. To the people dwelling in the cradle of civilization several thousand years ago, Inanna was as Venus is to us: a goddess of love, a beautiful goddess, a heavenly queen. In the tale, she travels to the underworld to retrieve her dead love. The underworld is ruled by her sister, Ereshkigal. Inanna cannot enter the underworld without dying, but a goddess does not stay dead. A goddess is immortal and so, after her journey, she rises, just as the planet Venus, having completed her retrograde journey, must turn direct and return to the sunlit world.
Inanna prepares for her journey by putting on seven things: a crown on her head, a scepter in her hand, a necklace, gems for her breast, a ring on her finger, a breastplate and royal garments. As she descends, she passes through seven gates. At each gate, the gatekeeper requires her to remove one of these items before allowing her to pass. In passing the seventh gate, she comes before her sister (think of them as two aspects of one goddess, light and dark) entirely naked and vulnerable. There she sickens and dies and her corpse is hung upon a stake. After three days and three nights have passed, she is revived and saved by the intercession of Ninshubur, a Mesopotamian Mercury. Mercury (Hermes to the Greeks), as messenger of the gods, is traditionally one of the few immortals who is able to travel between the under- and over-worlds without having to die to do it. The messenger-god sends two angels to feed Inanna the food and water of life. She is brought back to life and returns to the over-world, bringing a trail of the dead with her. The dead who return with her are not the restless dead, but those who died peacefully.
What Does The Story Mean?
Think of Inanna’s descent as a descent into deeper intimacy. She is attempting to bring her lover back from death and to revive her relationship. To do this, she must go into her relationship’s darkness; she must enter into deeper intimacy. This requires a vulnerability that she cannot comprehend at first, but learns to understand by experiencing it.
Inanna armors herself for the descent into the underworld. Her approach to the first gate is tinged with arrogance, but by the time she arrives at Ereshkigal’s throne she is stripped, literally and figuratively. She has no armor left. She is entirely vulnerable.
This tale is a classic one because Inanna’s behavior is so like our own, when faced with the prospect of real intimacy and the fear it brings up. When we go into an “intimate” conversation, don’t we gird ourselves for a fight we are secretly hoping to win? Don’t we decorate ourselves, hoping to charm our partner into agreement, or to entice them? Don’t we cover our breast, our heart, with hard armor in hopes that, while we may deliver a wound, we will escape without receiving one? We wish to make our point and to have an impact on our partner, without having to feel anything or make any change in ourselves.
Inanna shows us that vulnerability is the only approach that works when going into the dark places of love and relationship. If you find yourself in a relationship where you cannot ever be entirely vulnerable or your partner does not feel that they can be entirely vulnerable (at least some of the time), then real intimacy is not happening between you. Both partners must be capable of complete vulnerability and willing to stand emotionally naked before each other, and ready to let go of all armor, in order to reach true intimacy. At the very heart of intimacy is trust, without which a relationship has no foundation.
Seven Gates, Seven Sacrifices On The Way To Deeper Intimacy
Inanna must make a sacrifice at each gate on her way to the underworld. Each sacrifice has interesting possible meanings. During 2009’s Venus retrograde period (March 6 through April 17) I’ll be making one short blogpost about each of them. As I do that, I won’t be trying to interpret their meaning to the Mesopotamians who first told this story; I am looking for the meaning these symbols hold for you and me, today.
Relationship Epiphany Day: March 27
During any planet’s retrograde journey there will be a day of epiphany. This day occurs when that planet crosses (conjuncts) the Sun. When Venus conjuncts the Sun, her symbolic proximity to the Sun will “shed light on” Venus’ domain which as we know is relationships. Look for an illuminating moment in your relationship journey on or near this day. It can happen anywhere in a 5-day span, up to 2 days before or after March 27.
Timing Of 2009’s Venus Retrograde Period
March 6, 2009: Venus turns retrograde. Inanna’s descent into the intimate darkness begins. The faster you take off the armor and agree to open yourself up to authentic intimacy, the better it will go for you and your partner.
March 27, 2009: Venus conjuncts the Sun. There will be a relationship epiphany on or near this day.
April 17, 2009: Venus goes direct. Inanna returns to the world above. The retrospective period is over, and now you must go on from here with the insights you’ve gained about your relationship.
What Does It Mean That Venus Is In Aries?
Venus’ retrograde journey begins in Aries and takes this planet backwards into Pisces. Venus in Aries is impetuous and impulsive in matters of love. She is hot-blooded, passionate and capable of leaping into love before considering the situation. Venus in Aries might enjoy a little battling, a little head-banging, in her relationships. While Venus is retrograde in Aries, there may be more fighting, and if you experience that, make sure it is in service of a deeper connection. Aries has little tolerance for secrets or games. The truth will out during this retrograde stint—it’s a good idea to simply make the best of it. Take advantage of the opportunity for cleaning the slate and starting fresh. The capacity for trust is increased after a fresh start like this one.
During the last 6 days of this Venus retrograde period, Venus moves backwards into the end of Pisces. This seems like an apt symbol for Inanna’s arrival at the throne of Ereshkigal, where she sickens and dies. Even after 7 sacrifices, Inanna must give still more before she can return to the lands above. At this point, Inanna must trust that love, even when killed, can live again. After her resurrection, the peaceful dead return with her to the surface, symbolizing how, when love is reborn, much that was thought lost forever is reborn with it.
Inanna’s journey is difficult, but there is so much reward in it. In bravely stripping herself of all obstacles of true intimacy, she gains access to a world of depth in love and relatedness that simply cannot be reached any other way. And, although much is lost and love dies, love is also reborn fresh and new, and love’s return is accompanied by much that had been believed lost. Inanna returns to the world of everyday love from her sojourn into its depths with knowledge of self and knowledge of other which cannot be gotten any other way and which strengthens and sweetens even the smallest everyday tasks.
Are you ready to go into the deep places in your relationships? Are you willing to give up all obstacles to intimacy? Are you able to stand naked in the darkness and be real with your partner? If so, Inanna has gifts for you. But she will not tell you what they are until your journey is through. In the meantime, you have to simply trust.
The retrograde journey of Venus is uncompromising. Inanna’s journey ends in death. But beyond the death of relationship is resurrection. Some relationships will not make it through this period and will die, as Inanna did. If your relationship is one of those, what rises from the dead may not be your relationship, but your capacity for relationship. Let yourself learn from the process how to do it differently in future, and love will blossom again in your heart, in its own time.
January 11, 2010: Love Is Reborn
Venus has a full yearly cycle, which begins and ends when it conjuncts the Sun. Today, January 11, 2010, is the alpha and omega of that cycle. Today, last year’s relationship journey ends and this year’s begins. From here, Venus will proceed direct (i.e. forward) until October 8, 2010, when it will move retrograde (i.e. backwards) again for six weeks, sending us all on another deep journey into the heart of relationship. At that time I’ll write a post on another myth about love’s darkness, that of Eros and Psyche. This is one of my all-time favorite myths. I’m looking forward to it already and hope you are too.
In the meanwhile, one relationship journey has ended; another begins. This does not mean relationships have to end. Quite the contrary—now is a time of fresh starts and there is a sense of newness, a scent of spring about it. The testing time is long past. Love has been reborn. Now is a great time to fall in love with those you care about, all over again.
For more about the Venus Retrograde period and how it feels, look here: This Year’s Venus Retrograde