Celebrate February by honoring Aphrodite. Aphrodite, as she was known to the ancient Greeks (she was also called Venus by the Romans) is best known as the Goddess of romantic love and sensuality, but she can also be so much more. If you are in the Boston area before February 20, be sure to visit Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and their exhibit titled “Aphrodite and the Gods of Love.” Learn more about the exhibit here. The exhibit brings together over 150 pieces of art and everyday objects relating in some way to Aphrodite. Included are not just sacred and sometimes erotic art, but everyday items related to marriage, children, and even Aphrodite’s role as patroness to seafarers.
One of the curators of the exhibit said in her written comments that, as she lived with all these objects over time, she came to see that Aphrodite was really the Goddess who brought people together, who propels us into each other’s lives. This emotional and spiritual gravity is every bit as strong and important as physical gravity which keeps the stars and planets spinning in their orbits. Not everyone will agree, but, to me, that makes her not just a Goddess of love, but an expression of a force that includes love as well as all those emotions, impulses, and desires that pulls us to one another, a recognition that we are not really independent individuals, but part of a web of inter-related beings.
To me, this force has an effect on every moment of our lives, but really has no name. It is so deeply a part of us that we rarely notice it unless we are riven with sorrow when we are without a loved one or in pain when we are forced to live in solitude. As if we didn’t know the importance of being in a unity with others from our everyday experience, research study after research study has shown that being social – connecting and feeling a part of other people’s lives – is essential to physical and mental well being. People who spend time with others in diverse networks creating strong bonds live longer, have stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure, suffer from less memory loss and maintain better cognitive functioning, and are generally happier and less stressed. Condemning prisoners to solitary confinement is one of the cruelest forms of psychological torture.
Aphrodite’s power is, to me, not just the force bringing different individuals together, but also that which calls the many aspects of ourselves to come together to be our whole selves. As I look back on my life, sometimes I see myself not as one being, but as many early versions and shadows of who I am now. Some of these are the child who believed in the endless potential of the future, the teenager who could be silly for days on end, and even the young woman who assumed that humanity is at heart benevolent. Some days these versions of me all seem within reach and other days they seem irretrievably gone. How I would like to gather them back to me, like lovers or children lost. Many of the statues of Aphrodite have a very inward-looking aspect. Perhaps by reflecting a little on Aphrodite we can tap into this power of integrating all our selves into one essential, unfolding being.
To our peril, reverence of this force that Aphrodite evokes seems to be in ruins just like so many of her ancient temples. For all the lip service that the concepts of “community” and “unity” receive, words and behavior that divide people through borders, stereotypes, or social, religious, ethnic, or political boundaries seem to be valued highly in our century. Name-calling in politics is at an all-time high and is rewarded with votes. Officially-sanctioned discrimination and divisions seem to be everywhere. Rarely do we have time in our overly-busy culture to heal the fragmented aspects of our individual selves. What a different world we would have if everyone truly believed and acted on their belief in unity as a real virtue, if Aphrodite and her power to bring together were truly celebrated now as her image was in ancient Greece.
As we join the rest of our culture in sending Valentine’s cards and eating candy hearts in February, maybe we can find our own ways to celebrate Aphrodite and her special power of bringing people together. At one time in ancient Greece, she was worshiped in temples with elaborate rituals. Those of us who can’t travel to Europe to do that can still keep her in our minds and hearts this month in our own ways. Perhaps we might like to contemplate these words from Sappho, who mentions Aphrodite often in her poetry and who seemed to feel her as a presence in her everyday life:
I asked myself
What, Sappho, can
You give one who
What can we give to ourselves and each other besides candy and flowers, what thoughts and actions can we leave on Aphrodite’s altar within ourselves, to honor her and her mighty power to make us one within ourselves and with one another?