In all faces,
the Face of faces
is veiled as a riddle
Nicolas of Cusa, 15th century mystic (1)
Is there anything more basic and universal than Love? Even an archaic species of human, the Neanderthals, demonstrated the ability to care for the sick and injured and practiced flower burial. Indeed, recent scientific studies have shown that even cows and sheep show affinity for others, as well as what we might see as the shadow side, i.e., the grudges and depression that come with being separated from the objects of affection. (2)
In astrology, when we talk about Love, we usually think first of Venus. Venus is the closest planet to Earth and holds the archetype of Love, consistent with the idea that love/affection is one of the closest and deepest emotions. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Love is an extremely multi-faceted experience. There are probably as many ways to love as there are people, or perhaps even beings, on this planet. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to focus on what I see as the three most basic faces of Love.
Western astrology arose out of the Hellenistic era in the Greek tradition. There are several Greek words for Love. Among them are Eros, Philia, and Agape. (3)
Plato defined Eros as an appreciation of beauty, but most people associate Eros with the more passionate, sensual and erotic face of Love. All these attributes are consistent with the Greek version of Venus, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. Aphrodite was seen as the epitome of beauty, but she was also vain, so her beauty was as troublesome as it was beneficial. To win the judgment of Paris as the most beautiful of the goddesses, she bribed him with the promise of the most beautiful woman as his wife. This was Helen, who was already wed to a King, and so began the great Trojan War.
We can see several important things in this story: Eros can be a possessive love, and violent consequences can ensue as a result of the shadow side. We can say that the shadow side of Venus, the planet closest to Earth, can serve as a trigger for the shadow side of the planet next closest to Earth, Mars.
In New Age circles, it is commonplace to hear appeals to a “higher” form of love that seems unconditional and more sacred. The Greeks called this Agape; the word was later used by the Christians to describe the divine love of God. In modern astrology, we associate this kind of cosmic love with the transpersonal planet Neptune. Despite the common tendency to deny it, this kind of love is not without its troublesome aspects. Stanislav Grof associates Neptune with the very first stages of life, that of floating in the womb. The positive aspect of this archetype is a transcendent feeling of ecstasy, but the shadow side is confusion, distortion, or even deluded, paranoid, and psychotic feelings. (4) Liz Greene notes in her tome on this modern planet that an unintegrated Neptune can result in a regressive infantile longing for a blissful Eden that is not realistic. (5)
It is my opinion that the problematic natures of the modern planets are often underestimated and the positive side overestimated. Humanity has recently experienced the very first Neptune return since its discovery. If the first Saturn return signals the beginning of real maturity and adulthood, then collectively we are like the average 29-year-old young adult with respect to Neptune – not exactly experts yet. So, trying to make the big leap from Eros to Agape seems like something of a fool’s venture.
Fortunately, we don’t have to make the leap from Venus to her “higher octave” Neptune in one step. In her seminal work Asteroid Goddesses, Demetra George introduced the idea of “octave transformers.” (6) Because the asteroids dwell between the rocky personal planets and the transpersonal gas giants, they can be seen in the role of transformer. Asteroids with the same archetypal quality of the other two planets can be seen as transformers in the archetypal circuitry. Their role is to literally step up (or down) the archetypal energy between the personal and transpersonal. My friend and colleague Jim Rodgers wrote about this recently in the NCGR Research Journal. (7)
Rodgers sees Juno as the octave transformer between Venus and Neptune, and I find this useful. In this role, I think Juno also serves as the archetype holding the face of Love that the Greeks called Philia. As the Goddess of the sacred contract of marriage, Juno embodies virtuous love, which demands loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires equality. Philia is basically friendship and good will, but is also altruistic, like the love of a parent or mentor. Another way of thinking of Philia is the Quaker concept of “right relationship.” (8) Beyond a simplistic moral notion of “doing the right thing,” philosophically, a thing is right when it preserves the integrity, resilience, and beauty of life.
In my view, the natural progression of Love is from Eros, to Philia, to Agape. One has undeniable and obvious affinities for certain people, places, and things. This is Eros. By engaging our natural Eros while also seeking “right relationship” with the objects of our affections, we avoid the possessive shadow manifestations because we are truly concerned about the well being of the other as much or more than ourselves. It is only when we have mastered the right relationship of Philia that we can approach Agape without unconsciously or unintentionally engaging the dangers of the transpersonal realms.
In my opinion, once integrated, these three archetypes, or faces, of Love are really One. If we consider the concept of Holarchy, each part or piece of the whole also contains the whole within itself, thus Venus contains within her the essences of all three faces of love and love “planets.” (9) It is as if there are three “decanates” of Venus: Venus-Venus, Venus-Juno, and Venus-Neptune.
Coincidentally, visually speaking, Venus has three incarnations: Morning Star, UnderWorld, and Evening Star. Her Eastern appearance as Morning Star is separated from her Western appearance as Evening Star by 60 days of darkness. As she passes through the crucible of the Solar fire, during her superior, or exterior, conjunction with the Sun, she is invisible to the outer vision of humans for 60 days and nights.
Image copyright 2012 Gary P Caton
Thus, we can see the synodic or visual cycle of Venus as a journey of three basic stages. It is a journey of growth toward wholeness. One of our oldest recorded stories is the Mesopotamian myth of Venus, as Inanna, who can be seen to go through the entire journey of exploring these three kinds of love herself. Early in the myth Inanna explores Eros via her marriage to Dumuzzi. Later she explores the “right relationship” of Philia via the confrontation with her dark sister Eriskegal and the banishment of Dumuzzi to the Underworld for failing to mourn her properly. Finally she experiences the divine compassion of Agape for Gesthinanna, Dumuzzi’s sister, and sets up a divine balance between the masculine and feminine with each being renewed by spending half the year in the Underworld.
We are currently experiencing the Evening Star phase of Venus, which can be seen to correlate with the third face of Love. Like an older, wiser, and initiated Inanna, who brings order to the kingdom through Agape, it is possible that we can also experience the balance and wholeness that Agape brings if we have successfully entered into right relationship with our world. And whether or nor this Valentine’s Day is as blissful as we hope for, and deserve, we will have almost four months while Juno is retrograde (from March 24 through July 14) to work on our Philia face before reaching again for the cosmic Agape Love of Neptune, as the cosmic love planet squares the nodes at the north bending this summer.
References & Recommended Reading:
(1) Angeles Arrien, The Second Half of Life: Opening the 8 Gates of Wisdom. Chapter 2 – “The White Picket Gate: Changing Identities, Discovering One’s True Face” opens with this epigraph
(2) Jonathan Leaked, The Secret Life of Moody Cows
(4) Stanislav Grof, Holotropic Research and Archetypal Astrology
(5) Liz Greene, The Astrological Neptune and the Quest for Redemption
(6) Demetra George, Asteroid Goddesses, Chapter 12, pgs 185-202.
Bio: Gary P. Caton is an eclectic Astrologer who embraces an organic process-oriented approach of spiritual exploration via the Living Sky. Gary has studied Spirituality for over 23 years. After exploring Shamanism and the Tarot, in 1993, his life was changed by a magnificent Dream where he was shown planetary alignments and became an Astrologer. Gary earned a degree in Counseling with honors and has developed a unique multi-discipline path to practicing Astrology over 19 years. Visit Gary at his website: Dream Astrologer