Aphrodite is one of the better known Greek deities. As goddess of LOVE and BEAUTY, her charms, jealousy, and refreshment capture one of the most powerful and one of the most treacherous domains of our psychological lives. In keeping with our series on the inner relationships with mothering and fathering, we can extract some potent themes in the motherhood and character of Aphrodite. Firstly, let us take a look together at her origin story. While there are a few variations, each holds some great pearls. We see that Aphrodite is born out of dethroning masculinity (the castration of father) and the salty waters of the ocean. The convergence of male potency (our drive and our need for power) with the cleansing and solidifying salt (body) and water (emotion) bring us into her presence.
The Watery Body of Our Emotional Selves
Consider the role of salt as preservative. In alchemy, we learn that salt brings form. It dries into a substance that might otherwise go to waste. This paired with the watery body of our emotional selves make for an embodied sense of feeling itself. This captures well our need for Aphrodite in our culture. That this is the goddess of beauty tells us much about her role in our experience of meaning. With Aphrodite in mind, all emotional life has substance to it. Embodied emotions are refined gems and experienced as beauty. And, like Aphrodite herself, they must be honored.
The Relationship Between Beauty and Love
Interestingly enough, this combination of sea and earth creates the goddess of love. This love, in one sense, is personified by lust and allure. After all, who but the goddess of beauty could best represent sexual desire? But on a deeper level, it is worth noting the relationship between beauty in the archetypal sense with love itself. Aphrodite has unfortunately been reduced in a patriarchal society to a mere object of consumption. So, too, has the allure of womanly beauty. The nuance and brilliance of beauty for beauty’s sake is much more than the image we carry into our relationship to femininity both within and without.
The Refreshing Presence of Beauty
In Aphrodite, we see that she bathes and this produces newness. A better translation uses the word, “refreshment”. Interesting to think of love in terms of beauty rather than sacrifice or lust. If we experience love by the Greek sense of the word, we are in the refreshing presence of what is beautiful, what is felt, and what is embodied. This is deeper than lust. When something comes forth in therapy so deep and tender that it is a sacred kind of confession or poetic vulnerability, I think of Aphrodite.
The Embodied Poetry of Things
One poetic rendering from ancient Greece suggests that she is born from the sea foam. Another likens her to the pearl of great prize formed in the gestational realms of deep oceans. Indeed, her character resembles that which we find in the formations of pearls at the bottoms of our darkest submerged selves. The fateful entanglement between spirit and matter can describe well the struggle of individuation into wholeness. On the one hand, our drive or looking out beyond, attempting to change neuropathways and correct bad behaviors comes as motivation from the aching, painful, ambiguous darkness where clamshells grow their pearls. Should we turn our attention instead toward the embodied poetry of things, the presenting soulfulness of nature, relationships, and the rise and fall of our own breathing, we may enter the restorative realms of Aphrodite.
The Waters of Beauty and Dangers of Seduction
Of course, throughout her mythologies, we see what terrible nuisance and life-altering things come about when she intervenes. Aphrodite can be consuming, jealous, overbearing, manipulative, and even outright rejecting. To heed these warnings is part of our work this week. We strive to find the balance in her role psychologically. Our souls must foam upon the shores of the hard ground of responsibility in life. We will explore the bubbly waters of beauty and refreshment alongside the dangers of drowning in her seductive whiles.