While in today’s society Venus is seen as the beautiful and desirable planet of love, the ancient world seemingly considered it to be evil incarnate. Among the least pleasant portrayals of Venus one can find the bible’s demonic Astaroth, the promiscuous Aphrodite who started the Trojan War, the bloodthirsty Quetzalcoatl of Mesoamerica, Shukracharya the Hindu guru of demons, and even the Christian devil Lucifer.
With the rise of feminism and revisionist history, these unflattering associations became labelled a product of misogyny and chauvinism, yet in most of these examples the villainous character is actually male or at least androgynous. More importantly, such associations were often given to Venus by the people who actually worshiped it, hence they deserve quite a bit more consideration than they receive today.
Let’s examine a few of the myths surrounding Venus in their original form, and see what the ancients had to say:
Inanna\Ishtar – The Original Venus
While she is best known today as the Ashtoret who’s worship is strongly condemned in the bible, her original form was known as Ishtar and even earlier as Inanna. Inanna was also the origin of the Canaanite Astarte, the Greek Aphrodite and the Roman Venus, and the original deity assigned by the ancient Sumerians, the inventors of astrology, to the brightest of the planets.
Yet while Inanna was one of the most important and revered deities of their pantheon, the Sumerians were eager to mention her dark side even in their oldest texts such as the famous epic of Gilgamesh. In that epic, Gilgamesh is approached by Inanna who blatantly asks him for the “fruit of his loins”, offering to make him her husband. Hitting on someone in such an open manner was clearly not as much of a problem in ancient Sumer as it is today, especially for women, but Gilgamesh was far from flattered. In fact, his reaction is best described as being scared shitless at the prospect!
The following is a modernized version of his reply to the horny goddess:
“Do you take me for a fool? Think I forgot what happened to your previous lovers?
First there was Tammuz\Dumuzi, the shepherd spring god, who now spends half a year being dead. Then there was the rainbow colored roller bird, whose wing you broke out of jealousy.
After came the magnificent lion, who fell prey to your traps and now wastes away in a cage. Another was the stallion, who was rewarded for your love with the bridle, the whip and the spur.
And then there was the shepherd boy, who loved you so much that he even sacrificed children for you. Your gratitude was to turn him into a wolf so that his own dogs now chase him away.”
Hell definitely knows no fury like a goddess scorn, and after hearing this she gives the rest of the gods an ultimatum – “either you send the sign of Taurus to assassinate Gilgamesh, or I raise the dead and cause a zombie apocalypse”. Yes, a literal zombie apocalypse.
The demon’s priest and Jesus with an axe
With the original Venus being portrayed in such a manner, it kind of makes sense that her reputation isn’t that great in other cultures as well. With that in mind, being portrayed as the guru of the demons\antigods is far from the worst of her portrayals. And surprisingly enough, aside from trying to overthrow Indra and Vishnu there aren’t many bad things attributed to Shukracharya, the hindu version of Venus. Even so, Shukra is still the main villain in many of the Hindu myths, and just like his bird-legged Sumerian counterpart he can also raise the dead back to life.
Another uniquely Hindu portrayal of Venus is the Parashurama avatar of Vishnu. This was his first fully human avatar, and one might argue that also the bloodiest one. His name literally means rama with an axe, and he was definetly known for using it.
Born to the priestly caste, he became a Rambo figure that led a guerrilla campaign against the rule of the warrior nobility. When his father suspected his mother of infidelity, Parashurama used his axe to chop off her head. And after winning the war with the local elite, he proceeded to genocide the entire warrior caste. Please Vishnu – don’t make any more Jesus and Che Guevara hybrids!
Beware of Greek bearing gifts
Time to talk about another shepherd who got himself in trouble due to Venus. This time it was Alexandros, a prince in hiding that was adopted by shepherds who called him Paris. Paris got himself in quite a mess one day, when he became the judge of a beauty contest between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. Aphrodite won the contest by offering him the most beautiful women in the world as his bride but unfortunately for him that woman was married to the Spartan king. Long story short, Paris and his family die in a bloody war and Helen of Sparta returns to her husband but goes down in history as Helen of Troy.
Aside from starting bloody wars, Aphrodite just like her Sumerian counterpart was also known for her many lovers, some of which met tragic ends. Unlike her Sumerian counterpart however, she was worshipped by the Greeks who invented the Burka and were famous for telling their women “be beautiful and shut up!”. Unsurprisingly, in such a “liberal” society Aphrodite was criticised quite heavily for her behaviour, which ended up with her and her lover Ares trapped in a net made by her husband Hephaestus.
The pride before the fall
“Lower the hell of thy loftiness, kill off thy carrion, as from under you crawl maggots and from your pockets worms.
How you fell from the sky, Praiser son of Dawn, cut down to the earth, ruling the nations.” – Isaiah 14, literal translation.
These verses, and in particular “Praiser son of Dawn”, are the origins of the name Lucifer, which prior to that referred only to the planet Venus. While originally referring to the king of Babylon, thus phrase became the genesis of the legend about a fallen angel named Lucifer who rebelled against god and was struck down to the earth, thus becoming the devil. In this legend, Lucifer was an archangel and the most beautiful of god’s creations, yet his pride got the better of him when he tried to rebel against his creator. As a result, he was cast down from heaven and his wings were taken from him, reducing him to walking upon the earth amongst the mortals, or in other versions of the legend to be locked up in hell.
A lesson from the past
While all of these stories may seem irrelevant or outdated, for a serious student of astrology there are many crucial lessons to be learned. The promiscuous nature of Venus has long been noted for certain astrological placement, for example its position in the 7th house is well known for creating multiple relationships. In addition, both the ancient Mayans and the ancient Egyptians mention using Venus as an astrological indicator for wars, which perfectly mirrors the myths of Parashurama and of the Trojan War.
A far more easily dismissible story would be the fall of Lucifer, yet it is closely paralleled by the story of Shukracharya and as such deserves attention. In both stories, the main themes are pride and rebellion against a higher power, which are in fact important lessons even from the perspective of an atheist.
Both Lucifer and Shukra make the mistake of overestimating their importance and power, and end up paying for it. And even in the original verses in the bible, the Babylonian king is warned that his pride and corruption will bring him down. In fact, the same theme was also portrayed with Inanna with her hurt pride and demand for vengeance, which ends up with a bull’s leg being thrown in her face.
With a myriad of other myths from different cultures pointing to similar themes, the treasure trove of information they can provide is limited only by our own willingness to listen and understand. But for now, it would suffice to say that the modern archetype of Venus is quite far from the whole story of this seductive planet.