The origins ascribed to the goddess of love differ depending on the author.
Oriented towards the practical implications of spiritual evolution, Homer presents Aphrodite as a symbol of love in evolution such as can be observed in the animal kingdom and experienced by man at different levels.
More theoretically minded, Hesiod describes Love at its highest level as it first appeared at the beginning of life at the moment of the castration of Ouranos, when limits were put to the infinite consciousness so that creation could appear.
But the symbolic meaning of the goddess continued to degrade over time, designating progressively denser planes of the vital till it reached that of carnal love, which is very distant from the meaning attributed by the initiates of ancient times.
In Homer’s works, Aphrodite is the daughter of Zeus and Dione, herself daughter of the Titan Oceanos, ‘the principle of the natural evolution of the currents of energy-consciousness’. Dione is also sometimes known as the daughter of Ouranos, making her a symbol of union at the highest level above even the forces of creation (the Titan Oceanos).
By the structuring characters of her name, Dione, (ΔΙ+Ν), represents ‘evolution towards a conscious union’. If we consider the genitive of Zeus, (ΔΙος), she is therefore ‘Zeus in evolution’, which is to say the feminine aspect of the same energy. Her alliance with Zeus, ‘consciousness turned towards intelligence’, indicates ‘an evolution towards union and Love through the progression of the widening of consciousness and discernment’.
In fact, even if we can already see as ‘love’ the movement of life aimed at the reproduction of species – pollination in plant species, the dispersal of semen in a watery environment in most species of fish, etc., followed by the first forms of amorous exchange in more highly evolved animals, which seem more similar to human love – Homer only takes such movements into consideration when the reflective mental consciousness proper to man enters the scene.
For as expressed by the Mother, the evolution of love beyond the needs of procreation evolves in the following way:
‘At first one loves only when one is loved…
Next one loves spontaneously…but one wants to be loved in return.
Further on, one loves even if one is not loved…but one still wants one’s love to be accepted.
And finally one loves purely and simply without any other need or joy than that of loving. ’ (Mother’s Agenda, Volume 7, entry of April 16, 1966)
In another instance she also states:
‘Very rare and exceptional are the human beings who can understand and feel divine Love, because divine Love is free of attachment and of the need to please the object loved. ‘ (Mother’s Agenda, Volume 6)
The story of Aphrodite’s origins recorded by Hesiod, who was more metaphysically-minded than Homer, considers Love at its root as the fertilisation of life by the Spirit. He relates the birth of Aphrodite in the following way:
Gaia, Mother Earth, grew tired of carrying within her breast her children the Titans, who Ouranos refused to allow into the light. She therefore presented a sickle to the youngest of her sons, the Titan Cronos, who severed the genital organs of his father while he lay sleeping and flung them far into the ocean tide, Pontos. From the sea foam that formed around the severed genitals emerged the goddess Aphrodite.
As a couple, Gaia and Ouranos represent the relationship between matter and spirit. The genitals of Ouranos are thus symbolic of the power of fertilisation of the Spirit. In a holocaust turned upon himself – the castration carried out by his son Cronos – Spirit accepted certain limits so that Love could emerge and progressively manifest itself in life (Pontos, the ocean tide, is a symbol of life). According to Hesiod, Love is therefore the result of the creative power of Spirit in Life. This interpretation of the mutilation of Ouranos is further supported by the probably word play around the word Μηδος, which means both ‘sexual organ of man’ and ‘purpose or thought’. In which case, this legend can be understood as Love being the hidden purpose of Spirit evolving in life.
We could go further with this interpretation by noting that Aphrodite is born of the foam, which is to say a combination of air and water, of life and mind. This would suggest that the reproductive process present in the plant kingdom in which the mind is not yet linked to the nervous system cannot yet be called love. According to Hesiod’s version, love would therefore begin in the animal world.
Later authors have taken up one or the other of these versions depending on their spiritual orientations, and some, like Plato and Xenophon, have used both concepts and made a distinction between Aphrodite Urania, divine Love, and Aphrodite Pandemos, common love.
The presence of the Charites, the three Graces Joy, Plenitude and Radiance by Aphrodite’s side illustrate this double meaning. In the first place they wove an immortal robe for the goddess: love is therefore indissociably tied to the highest expressions of the Absolute. In addition, they were the ones to have been given the task of bathing, anointing and dressing the goddess after her amorous escapade with Ares, a sign of a right relation despite Hephaestus’ jealousy.
The Horae, Equanimity, Precision and Purity, were also part of Aphrodite’s companions, along with the Charites. But while the latter wove the robe for the goddess’ adult form, the Horae only clothed her at her birth and adorned her with jewels and gold before leading her to Mount Olympus; they are therefore of a lower rank, and only prepare the path for Love. Divine Love is of another order altogether, inconceivable to us and taking the form of great colourful pulsations (Reference from Mother’s Agenda, Volume 8, entry of April 3, 1967)
In this study we give precedence to Homer’s version, as it is around it that the major epics and myths were elaborated. Aphrodite will therefore be interpreted as the goddess of human love evolving towards Unity and accompanying the growth of the mental planes.
Aphrodite is the wife of Hephaestus, but it is her relationship with Ares which is most often mentioned and certain authors even describe Ares as her husband. She is therefore linked to the two processes which deal with forms: their creation by Hephaestus, and their destruction by Ares. Love therefore grows through the renewal of forms.
Aphrodite bore three children by Ares, a daughter, Harmonia, ‘precision and purity with each thing in its right place’, and two sons who represented the two extremes in the progression of fear from mild apprehension, Phobos, to the greatest terror, Deimos. Phobos is both ‘what causes flight’ and ‘what is frightened’, representing both aggressivity and escape.
On a first impression, it seems strange that two of love’s children would be forms of fear. As the evolution towards Love can take place only if the forms adapt themselves to this evolution through a constant transformation, the play of an opposing force is indispensable to maintain a certain stability allowing for the development of life and the mind within forms. This stability is produced, for instance, by the repetitive process of the memory, including that of the movement which curls in upon itself at the cellular level. But an overly strong accumulation of these repetitive scenarios bring a fixity and a rigidity which render necessary the destruction and renewal of the form. Death itself is a form of renewal, the memory of which is preserved by the unconscious with the apprehension and fears associated with it, visceral fears rooted in our cellular memories from the time of the oldest animal species. For the man who does not maintain a continuity of consciousness through the process of birth and death, the renewal of forms is not perceived as a necessity for the growth of love but as a terrifying annihilation.
To be able to evolve, Love therefore has no choice but to call for the destruction of rigidified forms. As long as one remains in the world of forms there is an apparent contradiction between the Love of the domain of ‘eternal newness’ and the permanence of forms. Inversely, if the form can adapt itself instantaneously by remaining within Unity, it is then in Harmony.
Seen from this angle, yoga is therefore a work of constantly bringing more suppleness and largeness to all mental, vital and physical forms.
Mental suppleness can be quite easily understood as a surpassing of all points of view, opinions, prejudices, preferences and doubts and an unlimited widening into unexplored domains.
The plasticity of vital forms implies that one must progress beyond all vital desires, impulses and reactions, including those of disgust, fear, rejection, sympathy and antipathy, till one reaches a state of perfect equanimity and complete suppleness.
The plasticity of the body is obtained through the transformation of the habits of the physical mind, and can be furthered till the transformation of the body’s cells so as to realise a ‘supramental’ body driven by consciousness. The first step will be the one of bringing into being a body of sufficient suppleness and endurance to be able to sustain the presence and action of the divine force which will bring about this transmutation.
In short, the necessary developments are “a plasticity of the mind to be able to consider all things, a plasticity of the vital to contain all things, and a plasticity of the body to transmute all things”.
In the light of this it could be said that the process which favours the evolution of love combined with a darkening of consciousness generates fear. On the other hand, the establishment of Love implies the complete disappearance of fear including fear at the cellular and physical levels, for supreme Love cannot cohabit with the least vibration of shrinking or retraction. While fear is a necessity for animal man, allowing him to survive and awakening and containing him, any individual who seeks to emerge from animality must conquer it. And in fact, the victory of Perseus over the Gorgon Medusa is the common denominator of all of Heracles’ Labours.
Here, it is a question of a recurring process of yoga: what has been useful for growth during a certain period must be abandoned so that the next phase can be accessed. This is the case with the ego for instance. However, if the older mode of being has not been sufficiently developed it is premature to try to abandon it, for stages of progression cannot be overpassed with impunity.
If the union between Aphrodite and the two brothers Hephaestus and Ares can be conceived of in this way, we must ask ourselves why Homer made the former Aphrodite’s husband, when in the current stage of humankind’s development the destruction of forms seems more at the forefront that the generation of new forms. It would seem probable that this was because he was envisaging a future stage of humankind in which Love would finally be synonymous to the creation of new forms. The other gods seem to be party to this knowledge: here is the most well-known anecdote about the relationship between Aphrodite and Ares:
The two lovers had lingered long in bed one morning, and were taken by surprise by Helios, the sun, who hastened to described to the deceived husband what he had witnessed. Furious, Hephaestus secretly created a magical net, and the following night he spread it over the two naked lovers. He then called upon all the gods to witness the spectacle. Out of modesty, all the goddesses remained on Olympus, but the gods all hastened to the scene and were not able to contain their laughter. Poseidon had to intervene to appease the quarrel between the two brothers, which threatened to worsen, and Ares had to make amends.
This openly revealed relationship caused laughter amongst the gods who beheld the couple – which had borne Harmonia and her counterparts Deimos and Phobos – ‘naked’, which is to say in truth. They knew that this harmony belonged to the world of duality and was the sister of fear – fear of loss, abandonment, betrayal, and so forth. They were cognisant of the ‘true’ husband of Aphrodite, Hephaestus, who reclaims his place once the seeker has surpassed all fears.
However, another structure exists which brings to the stage a superior form of harmony beyond fear and duality. It belongs to the traditions of Samothrace, and seems to have therefore been reserved for initiates only. In that version Harmonia is said to be the daughter of Zeus and Electra, which means that she is at the level of the non-dual illumined mind and in this recounting naturally does not have any dreadful brothers.
Aphrodite was created by the penetration of the fertilising force of the Spirit into life, and if we consider the version recounted by Hesiod, emerged from the foam in a combination of air and water, mind and vital. Hence the probable origin of her name, ‘on the plane of the spirit (T) and the foam (aphros) of union (Δ)’, which is to say the movement at the surface of this union, as Love did not yet exist. Through its structuring characters her name means ‘the movement of evolution (the inverse of involution ΦΡ) to realise a union in spirit’.
Following her birth she was welcomed by the Seasons, (the Horae, Ωραϊ, Eunomia, Dike and Eirene, or Purity, Precision and Equanimity) daughters of Zeus and Themis, the Titanide of divine laws, for true Love could only blossom in an environment ruled by these three goddesses.
The interpretation of the legend of Adonis is rendered difficult by the scarcity of genealogical reference points. We therefore mention it here with great reserve.
Myrrha, the daughter of Theias and Orythia (or Cyniras), refused to honour Aphrodite, and the latter punished her by awakening within her an incestuous passion for her own father. Driven by this passion Myrrha slipped into her father’s bed for all of twelve nights. But on the last night her father discovered who she was, and threatened to kill her. To escape him, Myrrha implored the gods to conceal her from the eyes of men. She was then turned into a Myrrh tree, which parted to allow her to give birth when the pregnancy of her son Adonis came to term. The child was so beautiful that fearing that she would lose him, Aphrodite entrusted him to the care of Persephone, who fell equally in love with him. Called upon to resolve the issue, Zeus decided that Adonis would spend a third of the year with each goddess, and a third on his own. But Adonis renounced his part of solitude and spent it with Aphrodite. He was however killed by a wild board in his adolescence, when he was just beginning to hunt.
This myth insists on a just relationship to Love as the aspiration for union. It puts the seeker on guard against both a refusal of the inferior forms of love and against the opposite excess.
The seeker undergoes an attachment to the older form, the father, then a falling back upon himself which produces seductive fruits (Adonis, Δ+Ν), which are however but little evolved (emerging from the tree), and which subjugate the seeker both in his ‘love in evolution’ and in his interest for a work on the subconscious. As the seeker refuses to exercise his freedom, he is destroyed by the forces of the lower vital. In fact, the shelter of Zeus indicates that the path is an equilibrium between love in evolution (Aphrodite), inner work (Persephone), and the exercise of freedom (Adonis before himself).
Myrrh was used for embalming, which is to say for the preservation of ancient forms of great value.
Aphrodite’s most famous children are:
– Aeneas, conceived with the Trojan Anchises and at the origin of the royal lineage of the “future” Troy (Considered in an erroneous way to be Rome by Virgil).
– Harmonia, Phobos and Deimos, fruits of Aphrodite and Ares’ love.
– Eros and Hermaphrodite (only appearing in the texts of certain late authors), indicative of the moment when joy degrades into desire and pleasure.
Aphrodite is known to bring calm to the ‘battles of the sea’, for which she is also known as Pontia, Thalassia, Einalia and Eupolia, all of which are names linked to the ocean and to navigation: the aspiration to Union allows one to elevate oneself above emotion and to resolve the conflicts encountered on the path, especially in the vital.
Aphrodite’s emblematic objects are the dove and a sash which renders the wearer irresistible.
The dove is the universal symbol of purity and peace, a peace which is the cradle of Love. As this symbol is a bird, it indicates a tranquility of the mind which is a necessary preamble to the establishment of any true peace.
The sash is a symbol of mastery over the vital force located in the kidney and renal area, which allows the right exercise of will. Aphrodite also indicates that fear and love are incompatible.
During the course of time, Aphrodite and Eros fell progressively from their glorious height, and became more often identified with the lowest vibrations of animal love. Soon Eros began to be depicted as part of Aphrodite’s following, and was then represented as a young boy armed with the bow and arrows of desire rather than as an attractive young man.
Aphrodite within us
Aphrodite is the call to union within us under all its forms, requiring progressive purity, exactitude and equanimity.
She is that which helps us evolve on the path of love to surpass all forms of dependence and seduction and all movements of possession or egotism.
She is that which invites us to a complete acceptance of the impermanence of forms by inviting us to appreciate the work of Ares.
And she is that which incites us to aspire for the Harmony of what is Real beyond fear.