Venus through the Minor Arcana

Venus went direct yesterday, after about a month of being retrograde. The timing is appropriate for this post, as we’re up to Venus in the Chaldean order. We’re past the halfway point now, and the planets are speeding up. Venus was the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Similarly, in astrology, the planet Venus represents love, beauty, pleasure, and relationships. The five Minor Arcana cards associated with Venus do say something about relationships and/or pleasure, although sometimes what they show is the downside or how these can go wrong.

Four of Wands: Venus in Aries

Aries is primarily a solo sign. Not that Aries shuns people, but it’s self-centered rather than other-oriented. It’s cardinal fire, a combination that initiates action and is high-energy. So it’s essentially compatible with Mars and the Sun, planets that are associated with action and personal identity. Venus, however, is other-oriented, the part of us that creates relationships, and that focus on relationships is at odds with Aries’s focus on the self. The combination suggests creating relationships mainly to see what’s in it for you. Traditionally, Venus in Aries has been viewed as being in a contrary environment, and not acting at her best.*

Four of WandsWith that kind of background, you’d think the Four of Wands would depict selfishness or a reluctance to be with others. Instead, the Waite-Smith card shows people celebrating together. Perhaps this is about the completion of a project or task, since the Golden Dawn name for this card is Lord of Perfected Work and Crowley called it Completion. One keyword I use for the Four of Wands is community, and that’s the antithesis of this textbook description of Venus in Aries. Now, sure, there are other ways to interpret the combination of Venus and Aries. Perhaps this scene of dancing outside on a warm, sunny day shows Venus’s sociability fueled by Aries’s energy. Dancing itself—beautiful, done for pleasure, often done with other people—has a lot of Venus to it, and as physical activity, could draw on Aries/fire energy.

Two of Cups: Venus in Cancer

Two of CupsLike Aries, Cancer is a cardinal sign, but its element is water, and cardinal water suggests that Cancer takes action emotionally. Already this sounds like a more compatible environment for Venus. Cancer has been traditionally considered friendly to the Moon (the emotions) and Jupiter (benevolence), but Venus, too, seems more at home here than in Aries. Cancer’s focus is on nurturance, which is necessary when something has just been “born”—a baby, a project, a relationship—Cancer’s energy shines at the beginning of things.

With the Two of Cups, we have the most romantic presentation of Venus in the Waite-Smith deck. Not surprisingly, the Golden Dawn called this card Lord of Love.  I don’t think it’s stretching to see the Two of Cups as the beginning of a relationship. Twos are towards the start of the Minor Arcana, suggesting an early stage. Beginning a relationship is in keeping with the symbolism of Venus in Cancer—it’s that taking the initiative in emotional matters.

Seven of Cups: Venus in Scorpio

From one water sign to another: but Scorpio is a fixed sign rather than a cardinal one. Instead of starting something, fixed signs are about continuing and maintaining what already is. Positively, Scorpio is emotionally steadfast and reliable, but if used poorly, planets in Scorpio become stubborn and obsessive. The Seven of Cups pertains more to Venus as a symbol of desire and pleasure rather than relationships. The drawback to Venus being in Scorpio is that Scorpio doesn’t necessarily restrain Venus’s desires. Its fixed nature suggests that once Venus in Scorpio decides it wants something, she will continue to want it, which can bring out Scorpio’s obsessive side. So like Aries, Scorpio is traditionally viewed as encouraging Venus’s less appealing traits.

Seven of CupsThe Seven of Cups is one of those cards that differs noticeably between the Waite-Smith and Thoth decks. In the Waite-Smith Seven of Cups, the card is about being presented with a number of options and needing to choose one. The figure in the foreground faces multiple delights: riches, glory, power, and more. But the card is called Lord of Illusionary Success, suggesting that none of them will bring him true happiness. In pursuing one or more of them, will the man overlook genuine, if not nearly as flashy, happiness close at hand?

Seven of CupsCompared to the Thoth Seven of Cups, however, the Waite-Smith card is all sweetness and light. Crowley and Harris’s depiction of the Seven of Cups hits you over the head with what happens when pleasure goes bad. The card is called Debauch. It has the Thoth deck’s standard symbol set of flowers, cups, and liquids, but here the liquid is fluorescent green glop, likely poisonous—really, would you want to touch it, much less drink it? True, the lilies look healthy and none of the cups are broken: things are not as bad as they could be, but that’s not saying much in this card. Here is a particularly nasty manifestation of Venus in Scorpio: pleasure going well beyond the point at which it’s pleasant and sliding into debauchery. As the Thoth Six of Cups is called Pleasure, the path from pleasure to debauchery to indolence (the Eight of Cups) is a theme of the Cups suit.

Five of Swords: Venus in Aquarius

From fixed water to fixed air as we consider Venus in Aquarius. Instead of maintaining things in the emotional plane, Aquarius maintains them in intellect and communication. Although the combination of Venus and Aquarius is not traditionally considered negative, there’s a bit of a conflict here. Venus wants relationships and pleasure. Aquarius is an air sign, and up for communicating with others, but that communication is mainly going to be intellectual. Ditto for pleasure: Venus may want a good bit of sensual self-indulgence, but Aquarius is likely to be more interested in a new book than physical delight. Venus in Aquarius has a reputation for loving the human race, but not doing that well at loving individual human beings.

Five of SwordsIf there’s a relationship in the Five of Swords, it’s that between the victor and the vanquished, and the only pleasure is the pleasure of beating others. The Golden Dawn called this card Lord of Defeat, which pretty much sums up the Waite-Smith picture. Indeed, any existing relationships between the three people in the picture may be the casualties of this battle. The victor has control of the swords, and seems happy, but in a card with Venus as its astrological correlation, it’s probably not good that he’s cut himself off from the others in the picture. For that matter, the two who lost are turned slightly away from each other. They aren’t going off together to console each other or plot revenge against the victor, but are alone in their misery.

Nine of Pentacles: Venus in Virgo

Virgo is the mutable earth sign. Earth is the element of the physical world and the practical, logistical approach to life. Mutability neither gets things going as cardinal energy does or keeps them going as fixed energy does, but changes and adapts what is. Virgo’s awareness of its circumstances makes planets in Virgo sensitive to imperfection and drives them to correct it in a practical, tangible way. Customarily, Virgo is considered another sign that’s at odds with Venus. That need to continually improve things can be harsh on relationships, and it’s difficult to thoroughly enjoy something when you’re constantly aware of anything that isn’t quite right about it.
Nine of PentaclesThat said, the Nine of Pentacles doesn’t appear to be about pickiness and perfectionism any more than the Four of Wands was about selfishness in relationships. The Waite-Smith Nine of Pentacles shows a woman in a vineyard, alone except for the bird that she’s holding and a snail on the ground. Cards with just one person in them are common in this deck, but except for this card and the Seven of Cups, the Minor Arcana associated with Venus show people in relationship. Like the Seven of Cups, the Nine of Pentacles portrays the pleasure and enjoyment side of Venus rather than the relationship side. The Golden Dawn title of Lord of Material Gain reinforces the idea that the focus here is on earthly pleasures. But in this card, Pamela Colman Smith shows pleasure in moderation to be a good thing. The woman’s body language is relaxed: her hand rests lightly on top of a pentacle and she trusts the other eight to be there. Compare this with the Four of Pentacles where the man clutches one pentacle to his chest while pinning another two down with his feet. Venus and Virgo combine to show contentment in the Nine of Pentacles. Perhaps this is Virgo’s acute awareness of the material world: the woman knows what she has, knows that it’s enough for her, and knows how to appreciate it.

*And yes, this is a textbook description of Venus in Aries. Real people with Venus in Aries—or any other sign—will live it in all sorts of ways, and there’s more to a person than just one planet/sign combination anyway.

For other posts in this series, see Astrology of the Minor Arcana.

R is for retrogrades

Coming into the Pagan Blog Project, I thought there would be a few letters that would be a challenge to write for. The obvious ones were Q, X, and Z. (Indeed, any letter with a high value in Scrabble is a candidate for being challenging.) As it has turned out though, I thought of something right away for Q, and I have something lined up for Z, although X is still a vacuum as I write this. Meanwhile, it was letters like F and N that have thrown me. For this week, my mind got stuck on R (a letter with a value of 1 in Scrabble—it should have been easy!). I could think of nothing to add beyond what others had posted on the Rede or ritual, nor did I have anything to say on the topic of reincarnation. I was wrestling with a potential post on rulerships which just wasn’t working, when I realized that retrograde starts with R also. And so here we are.

A planet is retrograde when it appears to be moving backward in the sky. While this happens to all the planets, I pay the most attention to the retrograde periods of Mercury, Venus, and Mars. The other planets from Jupiter on out stay retrograde for longer periods of time. I think we get used to that, and it’s harder to see differences between their direct and retrograde periods. With these three faster planets, there’s more contrast.

As with many other topics in astrology, there are different opinions about what it means when a planet is retrograde. In traditional astrology, being retrograde is one of the debilities, a condition that makes a malefic planet nastier or a benefic planet less helpful. A retrograde planet may be considered weaker in Western astrology, but I’ve heard that in Vedic astrology, retrograde planets are said to be stronger because this is when they’re closest to Earth. Modern psychological astrology tries to avoid dualistic “good/bad” language: the energy of a retrograde planet is seen as turning inward and being less noticeable as a result. Personally, I’ve found that the psychological interpretation works best when describing natal planets that are retrograde. When we’re talking about the effects of a transiting retrograde planet, often the conversation turns to what’s been happening in our lives, and lots of the time, what we’re talking about is what has gone wrong—the traditional descriptions still seem to work for events. (And often I’ve noticed that the problem started well before the retrograde period, sometimes months or years earlier, but it comes to light when the planet goes retrograde.)

Mercury rules communication and perception, so when it goes retrograde, we tend to notice right away. Its retrograde cycle is fairly even, lasting about three weeks every three months, each period falling a few days earlier than it did the year before. Entire books (plural) have been written about Mercury retrograde, the best known of the retrograde planets. In terms of events, this is a period famous for delayed travel, glitching computers, misunderstandings, and having to redo and revise a lot.

Venus’ retrograde periods last about 40 days; Venus goes retrograde about every 18 months. The most dramatic case of Venus retrograde I’ve encountered involved two of Venus’ traditional rulerships: relationships and beautiful things. A person had surgery and their coworkers started their customary collection to buy flowers for them. As it turned out, this person had alienated so many of their colleagues that not enough money was collected to buy even the smallest flower arrangement. After more money was secured, the coworkers ordered an arrangement to be sent to the person’s home. It was misdelivered to a neighbor who wasn’t on good terms with this person and refused to hand over the flowers. (The florist accepted responsibility for the delivery error and replaced the flowers.)

Like Venus, Mars doesn’t go retrograde every year. Its retrograde periods are about 2 to 2½ months. When I first decided to watch Mars retrograde, I wasn’t sure what to look for. Would wars go badly? Wars tend to go badly for someone even when they’re going well—that wasn’t going to work. In a list of traditional astrological factors to take into consideration when timing elective surgery, avoiding Mars retrograde periods was one suggestion. That made sense: Mars traditionally rules iron and steel, as well as weapons. Surgeons, who use steel scalpels and knives to inflict controlled wounds (which is what surgery is) are Mars’ by association—and you wouldn’t want anything glitching during surgery if at all possible. And its Mars’ rulership of iron and steel that I’ve noticed the most when Mars is retrograde. I had a computer die abruptly when Mars was retrograde: the hard drive fried. Along the same lines, a friend had severe car problems stemming from rust during Mars retrograde.

And if you want to do some observing of your own:

2013-2014 Retrograde Periods

Planet Goes Retrograde Goes Direct
Mercury October 21, 2013 November 10, 2013
February 6, 2014 February 28, 2014
June 7, 2014 July 1, 2014
October 4, 2014 October 25, 2014
Venus December 21, 2013 January 31, 2014
Mars March 1, 2014 May 20, 2014