A lot of people don’t know that Mas and Venus (Ares and Aphrodite) were adulterous lovers in Greek mythology. Though all the gods desired her, Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus because Zeus feared that her beauty might create a war among the gods. Hephaestus, a god of metal and fire smithing, was chosen (as one version of the story goes) because he was ugly and crippled. Obviously Aphrodite wasn’t impressed and she began having an affair with Ares (Mars) in secret. Venus and Mars’ affair went on each evening until one night, because they lingered too long, Helios (a Sun God) saw them in the morning from his golden chariot (which Hephaestus had made for the Sun God) and informed Hephaestus who then forged an unbreakable net and caught them with it.
After Hephaestus caught the two lovers he brought them to Olympus to be displayed and mocked in front of the other gods, but much to his surprise the other gods only laughed (Hermes/Mercury even joked that he wished it was him caught in the net!). Some stories say that as a punishment Ares was temporarily banned from Olympus (a kind of fallen deity), while others say that he was cursed with incurable desire. Either way, the love between Venus and Mars has always been a complicated dynamic. If we look deeper into these stories we can learn a lot about our own complications with love.
First, the story of Venus’ marriage begins with the idea that beauty is capable of creating war or strife among the gods. Beauty begets jealousy, competition, and strife. If we can remember this simple, small, mythological notion, imagine how that changes our perceptions of beauty! Consider, just consider, these
* When we say “you’re beautiful,” what we’re really saying is that you are inspiring of envy, competition, jealousy, lust, and even hatred.
* When we say life, the universe, nature is “beauty,” we are always simultaneously provoking enmity, spite, and division.
* When we say beauty is what’s on the inside, then we are also creating the idea that beauty is a private “affair,” that it’s not meant for the world “out there,” or that the world “out there” is perhaps cruel or undeserving or not so beautiful.
So, before jumping to Venus’ affair with Ares (foreshadowed by the fear of Zeus that Aphrodite’s beauty could incite war among the gods), let’s look at the selection of Hephaestus as Aphrodite’s husband. Why would Zeus choose the crippled god of metal working? There are lots of stories about Hephaestus, but we’re not looking for a literal/historical answer. Hephaestus was crippled because he was thrown down to earth by his mother, Hera (Zeus’ wife), for being ugly at birth. Though ugly, Hephaestus was a master craftsman. In fact,
Hephaestus crafted many of the gods most sacred objects and tools, including Hermes sandals and helmet, Helios’ sun chariot, and Eros’ bow and arrows. Perhaps most interestingly, Hephaestus was thought to be responsible for creating the animate powers the Greeks believed resided in statues.
We can empathize with Zeus’ plan to marry Venus to Hephaestus. Because beauty is part of such strife, doesn’t it make sense to pair her with ugliness instead? Because beauty can cause so much unnecessary conflict doesn’t it also make sense to pair her with “usefulness” or “craft” rather than a god like Ares, who is the god of war and lust? Don’t we just need to contain Venus? Bring her down to earth. Put her into an golden forged statue of love and beauty…gracing our lives but also hard, solar, and fixed.
We can empathize with Zeus’ marriage arrangement because Venus herself is a kind of fire, for as much as she is beauty and harmony she is also the secret fires of envy and strife. She is the secret flames of excessiveness and envy. What better god to give her to then a Virgoan flame master and useful but ugly craftsman like Hephaestus. We see this all the time. The beautiful woman attracts nothing but problems and so she seeks the “stable but boring man.” The beautiful woman attracts a high achieving dullard. The beautiful woman is taught to be useful, strong, and pure, and she is taught to let go of the frivolity and the danger of her beauty. Purity first, party second, or maybe even third or fourth.
But we also know that Venus in the “useful/pure” sign of Virgo (a sign we can imagine as the sign of Haephaestus) was considered fallen. All talk about the sacred/magical/sexual feminine side of Virgo aside, we can learn something important here. Venus can’t be so simply contained. Her natural lover is strife.
Mars is never far from Venus..even if only under the cloaking of night.
We might also inquire as to why the Sun god ratted the two lovers out. Why would it be the Sun god? Obviously the Sun god saw them because they stayed together too long, and so he caught them as he rose in the east, but there’s more. The Sun god points to the day world’s inability to handle the moral conundrums of Venus’ implicit attraction to warlike mars. It takes a more lunar, more nocturnal form of consciousness, in other words, to understand and appreciate the secret side of love (Venus), which is her natural affinity for violence, chaos, and enmity. The Sun God rats them out because his form of consciousness simply can’t hold space for violations of his “clear” boundaries. From the solar point of view, love is love is love, and hate is hate is hate, and we privilege one over the other, separate the two, and Venus should stay with her metal forging, ugly but highly talented and “useful” husband.
So let’s get down to it, because it’s valentines day, and Venus in her exaltation is getting ready to conjoin with Mars. Let’s burn with it. Let’s set aside the shaming, containing, fear of Father Zeus (as much as we might understand his arranged marriage motivations, even agree with some of them), and let’s set aside our empathy for the ugly and the useful. Let’s see Venus and Mars for what they are…
A smoldering dance of “it’s complicated”
A fight whose love creates the ever hungry, never satisfied Eros, cupid, lover of the soul and partner of our “Psyche”
A taste for blood in every rose given
A lusty hatred in every metaphysical notion of peace and transcendence
A hunger for whats given, not for whats needed, useful, or clear
A passion for the impractical
A desire for torment and the torment of tremendous beauty
A brothel filled with the psychic images we are most horny for, the ones we burn to the ground
A fight for the virtues of peace, we’re on fire for them
The kiss that kills, the poison that cures, the peace that injures, and the war that soothes
In the sign of the two fish, we can see the illicit lovers tangled in the web of eternity, as the face of forever, tails tied together, swishing in the watery whirlpool. We can burn for it, burn against it, sink into it, let it pass through us, whatever we want…
Prayer: whatever we want…
Image by courtesy of Abitha Pallet, at creative commons image licensing