Venus has always been my guilty secret. I’ve got Venus in Scorpio. As a beginning astrologer I learned this meant I had an intense, seductive, and smoldering femininity. I wouldn’t mind claiming this energy at all. I’d even make do with its shadow reputation as a vengeful sorceress. Yet the usual observations about Venus in Scorpio have never rung true for me. This is my unconscious planet. Years ago, my husband left me for a woman who probably was a Venus in Scorpio. She was dark, mysterious, and passionately sexual, “Everything,” he said, “you’re not.”
My chart tells the story of my planet’s dispossession. Venus falls in the 3rd house of siblings: My sister got the Venus in the family. She was my father’s favorite. With long dark hair and almond eyes, she could ride bikes, roller skate, and gallop on a horse with ease. I was clumsy, wore glasses, and had short mousy brown hair, with nothing seductive about me. I always felt invisibly thwarted attempting Venus things. That’s Pluto squaring Venus from my 12th house. Were Pluto in another house, I might be more intense, impassioned and perhaps obsessive, as this Pluto square is sometimes described. But mostly I’ve experienced this aspect as a deep inadequacy, even fear around men. My Venus is further squared by the Moon, a common signature for female rivalry. Typically this describes a mother-daughter competition, with the mother subtly undercutting the femininity of her rival daughter. Perhaps it was because of that other triangle in our family that my mother undercut my girly-ness by making me her favorite, with an ambiguous gender message. She praised me often for my brains and strength of character, but never for my beauty.
Quite early, at age four or five perhaps, I gave up on being a girl. With Venus conjunct brainy Mercury, I’ve always gone for an androgynous, bookish style. Whatever passions I’m due from the Scorpio vibration, I’ve sublimated into 3rd house pursuits, as an ardent love for the beauty of language, a zeal for learning, a desire to probe the depths of thought. I was quite relieved during my pregnancy to learn I was having a son. Feeling so helpless around pink bows and lace, I was terrified of having a daughter. How would I dress her? How would I comb her hair? What could I possibly teach her?
Being so absorbed in my own discomforts with Venus, it was some time before I lifted my head and discovered that many of you don’t have such a good relationship with her either. We’ve got different stories indicating different dispossessions. But if we judge the health of the cultural Venus by the questions people ask astrologers, it’s easy to conclude she is but scarcely held. After issues of purpose (“Who am I really?” and “What should I do with my life?), most people want to know how to get more Venus things. They want more love, more money, more happiness, They want to be more attractive and feel appreciated by those they love. Cultural epidemics of low self esteem, marriages without passion, and work without joy are further proof of how much we lack and crave her.
So who is Venus really? She’s more than sheer femininity. She presides over many of life’s good things. Sure, she’s the happy, flawless girls in beer commercials. But she’s also a sensuous drip of chocolate, a lusty, carefree laugh. She’s a string of diamonds, a deliciously lazy afternoon. If you want to raise your inner Venus, just dance your fingers across a silk sheet, or sniff the fine leather of a luxury car. Venus is wicked too, orgasmic, fun. She’s also graceful and artistic. She’s Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Onassis. She’s the sensuality and fertility of earth in her Taurus emanation. She’s sweet harmony and judicious balance in her aesthetic, airy Libra nature. You can locate her in an elegant mathematical equation. You can hear her singing through a wind chime or the morning chorus of birds. Drop an ice cube down your back and she’ll squeal with delight. She’s both poise and eroticism, wild abandon and good taste. As the goddess of love and abundance, she’s what makes this earth so pleasurable. So why on earth should we have trouble with her at all?
The Venus of today is hopelessly frustrated. Our most enduring pop Venus icon, Marilyn Monroe, is known at once for two qualities: her allure and her unhappiness. She’s not alone. Consider Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Di, other late twentieth century Venus icons. Each had so much, yet was poignantly unsatisfied. What they possessed in money, status, and beauty, they seemed to lack in true love or personal happiness. Or so our myths about them go. Their stories confirm our modern expectations—of dashed hopes and great beauty yoked to personal tragedy. Our romantic fantasies often glorify unhappiness—the ache of longing, the sweet sorrow of parting. It’s true—not having something, can flush its best qualities to the surface. Yet how often, when we our desires are fulfilled, do we become complacent or critical, fully neglecting our joy? We may yearn after our romantic partners and make gods of them, so that they may (sigh) make up for all our life might lack. When they fall to earth with feet of clay, we go hunting for another fantasy. The essential poverty of this approach is the continual emptiness that inspires it. When we need someone or something to complete us, we have sent our Venus into the streets carrying a begging bowl.
It is no wonder that so many people go to astrologers hoping for some happy Venus news. Astrologers study Venus in a chart for clues about people’s relationships and finances. Love and money represent our ideas of happiness. But are they Hers? What if the Venus placement actually suggests where we’re meant to serve Her interests, rather than the other way around? In ancient times, if someone’s life was going badly, the oracle’s job was to identify which god or goddess had been offended and which offering would set things right. Most astrology books will tell me that Venus in Scorpio means I’m jealous and full of lust. But wouldn’t it be more interesting if they revealed what Venus in Scorpio wants from me—if they said not what I am like, but rather what I need to do? Until then my potential for pleasure may remain a sleeping beauty in a thorned forest. Can astrology bring the magic kiss that will wake my Venus up? Who is Venus really? And what matters to her?
The Greeks knew her as Aphrodite. Their goddess is not a brilliant strategist like Athene, nor an able huntress like Artemis. She travels with men, but not as a competitor. Radiantly beautiful and exquisitely graceful, she is an irresistible femme, skilled in countless arts of attraction. She knows how to please—and is delighted to be pleased. The smith-god Hephaestos married her, but she’s linked romantically with a host of others, including the gods Ares, Dionysus and Hermes, as well as mortals Adonis and Anchises. There are even incestuous whispers about Zeus, her earth-aspect father. Among her many sons are the hero Aeneas, Priapus with his huge phallus, and Hermaphroditus with both male and female genitalia. Unabashed sexuality surrounds her. Of course her most famous son is Eros, that cherub of desire with devastating arrows. There are varied stories about her birth, but the most famous is that she rose up, fully formed, from the sea foam of Ouranos’ severed genitals Temples were built to her and priestesses honored her with sexual arts. Often she’s pictured standing naked on a giant sea shell (symbol of the vulva).
Aphrodite’s connection to both male and female genitalia is so pronounced, we must consider this key to understanding her values. Yet how do we draw that into our astrology charts? And how do we reconcile her unabashed sexuality with our twenty-first century feminist values? We’ve fought hard to take women beyond being sexual objects. We must further acknowledge the stain that two thousand years of Christianity has spilled on Aphrodite’s unabashed erotic free-for-all.
Most of us discover our erotic feelings in youth, alone and in secret. Not being able to share them with anyone forever taints our sexuality with a certain uneasiness and shame. We’re constantly taught about the methods and virtues of work, but little is ever said about the skills and importance of pleasure. Nor can we take much comfort from the Middle Age legacy of courtly love. Despite being an affliction of a few privileged knights and troubadours, this chaste and idealistic style of loving has profoundly shaped—and distorted—our contemporary notions of romance. Pass sexy Aphrodite through all these filters and she comes out rather strained—which may be why, unlike the Greeks, we’ve built no honest temple to her. Of course such neglect is the sort of thing to make a goddess mad.
In fact, psychologist James Hillman thinks Aphrodite is quite angry. This goddess of sexuality expects us to recognize that sex is a sacred and soulful force. She wants us to ignite with her divine spark, to become instruments of pleasure. She wants us to obliterate boredom and fatigue with heavenly joy, to taste, touch, and smell our rich and beautiful world. She wants us to know that ecstatic communion with life force during sacred sex will make us feel healed and whole. Then our lives and all that we encounter will be blessed with Aphroditic laughter, sparkle and grace. But when we minimize her gift, when we secularize it, sneak it, shun it, and feel guilty about it, we have deeply dishonored her powers. A goddess scorned is a goddess out for revenge, and Venus does this, says Hillman through a “pink madness.” Says Venus,
I shall invade every nook of the contemporary world that has refused me so long with a pink madness. I shall pornographize your cars and food, your ads and vacations, your books and films, your schools and your families. I’ll get into your T-shirts and underwear, even into your diapers, into teenie boppers, their slogans and songs, and into the old ladies and gents in retirement colonies, on walkers in San Diego and Miami Beach. I’ll show you by showing, until your minds are fuzzed pink with romantic desires, with longings to getaway—trysts, nests, sweets. That is, the civilization will be crazed to get into my preserve, my secret garden. I will excite your entire culture so that even those attempting to cure their neuroses, as well as their sober psychoanalysts, will have nothing better to talk about than desire, jouissance, seductions, incest, molestations and the gaze into the mirror. 
With her abundant sexual encounters, Venus names our capacity to be promiscuous with all of life, to enjoy it, surrender to it, play with it, and create from it. When the Sun is creative, it wants to express itself and be acknowledged. Venus, however, creates just for the thrill of it. When Venus is engaged, our creativity is erotic. Her absence, therefore, may be why some creative projects fail, burdened with too much “purpose” and expectation. Venus reminds us that having fun is high art. And it’s a deep value of the cosmos. Without the Sun there would be no life, but without Aphrodite’s desire, represented by the embrace of gravity and the fertile, receptive body of earth, there would be no garden here, no creation, no beauty. That our earthly paradise should exist at all is quite remarkable. None of it is necessary. In a sense, it’s all frills. But what frills! If we don’t take pleasure in these daily frills of our existence, then we truly miss Venus/Aphrodite’s point.
Having Venus in a chart, therefore, implies certain obligations. Whether she’s in your 4th house of family and home, your 11th of friends, your 9th house of philosophy, wherever she appears, you need to answer her questions. Do you make this part of your life beautiful? Do you offer time for sensuous experiences here? Do you allow yourself to open and surrender? Do you laugh, do you appreciate, and are you playful, so that everyone around you is inspired by your joy? Venus’ sign suggests how to decorate her temple, filling it with things that most comfort, honor, and please you. Read her aspects to other planets as stories of her escapades, where she was most delighted or perhaps challenged and even overcome. Let learning about your Venus be an act of pleasure, not a chore. Start with whatever happiness you find in her house and sign and build from that. Everyone has some joy, no matter how bleak their landscape. I’m reminded of a story a professor once told. He was walking through a cafeteria line with a suicidal colleague, when this man interrupted his depressed and misery-filled narration to instruct the server about a baked potato. Carefully he chose the one he wanted and all the extra treats to put on top of it. That was a moment, no matter how small, when Venus was alive, when desire overcame death.
Venus demands that we embrace our own delight. But given the cultural suppression of Venus, this isn’t always easy. The Louvre’s famous—and armless—statue of Venus de Milo names our psychic condition with cunning accuracy. A Venus without arms lacks the capacity for sensuous engagement with the world. She’s incapable of the very embrace that defines her, wanting with eyes, mind and heart, but unable to have and hold. More instructive is Boticelli’s La Primavera. In this painting Venus raises one hand in approval of the scene around her. She is Venus the appreciator, the aesthetic one. With her other hand she holds her robes, a gesture of self-possession. Also inspiring is Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Unlike the lovers on Keats’ urn, forever reaching out, into the future, here Venus stands naked on her giant shell, fully centered in the moment, embracing her pleasure-body, queenly in her joy.
Those of us who don’t come by this expression naturally need good Venus role models. I’ve been lucky to have three friends with Venus in the Gauquelin sectors of their charts. One has Venus conjunct her Ascendant. Her situation is a striking echo of Aphrodite’s story: She has a Hephaestos-like artisan husband who adorns her with his hand-made jewelry, and there’s another man with whom she’s having a passionate affair. Jill is an incurable flirt. When she’s just outdone a rival, she makes a very convincing Venusian gesture of a proud and contented cat licking its paw. I once quizzed her about her flirting, an activity that’s always confused me. She felt her secret was her laugh. “Men,” she said, “know exactly what I mean when I laugh.” Among the Greeks, Aphrodite was known as the ”laughter-loving” goddess. Laughter is Aphrodite’s means to put us at ease. And it can send a signal—that we know a thing or two about having fun.
My second friend has Venus conjunct the Midheaven. Carol has enjoyed good career success, having risen to a position of authority with a nice salary, despite just a high school education and being so much younger her peers. In the office, she’s often the center of attention. And she’s beautiful, knows exactly how to line and shade her eyes, and in a world that glorifies the anorectic female, is unashamed of the voluptuous curves inside her skin-tight jeans. She can be both bawdy and proper. At formal (Midheaven) occasions, she’s quite keen on observing correct social forms. At her bridal shower, I watched how with remarkable grace and skill she transformed the modest livingroom gathering into the most important and elegant event in the world (it was to her). From Carol I’ve learned how Aphrodite’s confidence and commitment to beauty makes the rest of us enjoy it too.
My third friend has Venus conjunct her Descendant, in its own house, a place of honor. Andrea is tall and elegant. She wears pearls so naturally they look appropriate even in the laundromat. She has an almost obsessive passion for fine sheets. Early in life she wanted to be an artist, but contented herself with marrying one. I once asked her how she dealt with the attentions of men she wasn’t interested in, something that’s always made me co-dependently apologetic. I suspected that kind of thing had happened to her a lot. She thought for a moment, then instinctively went into her 7th house for the answer. “I always try to put myself in their position, and then tell them in a way that I would like to hear.” “But what if they don’t get it?” I asked. “Then the kindest thing is to say it gently but very direct.” It was the voice of Aphrodite, sweet but self-possessed.
I’ve seen moments where each of these women went beyond mere mortal feminine skill. However, if I were to put my finger on the one feature that binds all three, it’s this: I was incredibly disappointed when I finally met their men. There was nothing wrong with their fellows. It’s just the way each woman had always talked about her lover, I expected someone no less than a god. Despite being with her mate for some time, each still speaks of her man with heavenly sighs and gauzy eyes, in that gushy way the rest of us reserve for our partners during the first three months. But their adoration is neither the fantasy of early romance nor a woman’s subservience. All three are strong women and clearly aware of their lover’s humanity. Yet they still see someone who delights them. And that is Aphrodite’s deepest secret: She knows how to keep herself delighted in love.
We might wonder therefore about Aphrodite’s legendary promiscuity. What does promiscuity imply? Those who are promiscuous never settle into a relationship; therefore, each liaison has the excitement and curiosity of something new. At some point in our partnering, most of us trade Venus for the more demanding presence of our Moon. We want security, we have needs, we have a sense of the past. Losing spontaneity, we read deeper meanings into every action. If the Moon’s partner forgets a request, the Moon is sure he or she just doesn’t care. Slipping into old patterns, the Moon wonders whether her mate will ever make her happy. But self-possessed Venus sees disappointments otherwise, not as a reflection of her worthlessness, but as chance to discover more about her other. She may even be amused—tickled at the intensity that makes her lover absent-minded, delighted with his journal carried everywhere, crammed full of notes, because her lover, enthusiastic as a child, can’t remember anything unless it’s written down. It might even be what makes her mate more dear.
Venus as courtesan delights herself by being delighted. She loves to love whatever she sees. There’s something thrilling about this kind of promiscuity. It’s a willingness to be surprised. And it’s a willingness to be insecure, not knowing where it all will lead. This kind of Eros is something we can take anywhere—Into our marriages, our careers, even our relationships with children and friends, into each encounter with our world. This erotic engagement is well described well by the Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, who suggests we should move through life with an expectant wonder, wondering, for example, when you flush a toilet if the water will swirl down or up, and how delightful when it swirls down. Can you imagine how interesting dinner will taste tonight if you don’t know what to expect from your pasta? Can you imagine how delightful your child’s presence will be if you’re constantly unsure of who he or she is becoming? Perceived with fresh eyes and open heart, anything might be beautiful or fascinating, anything might inspire your love.
Not all of Venus’ stories are happy ones. After all, it was she who started the Trojan War. And there was that time her husband Hephaestos, suspecting infidelity, trapped her in a net lying naked with Ares, caught for all Mt. Olympus to ogle and laugh. The lesson here is clear: When you act from your Venus nature, you might just expose yourself. With Venus you name your values, which will reveal and may entrap you. She is the goddess of choices. And choices bring consequences. So there may always be a price to pay for her. You can play it “cool” but then your passion will disappear. Venus says “Get hot.” You may get into trouble. Maybe you’ll start a war. Life won’t be quite as safe. But then, without your Venus, would it really be much of a life?
Want to contemplate the intimate psychology of your own Venus? Order Your Venus Unleashed here.
“Have You Ever Really Met Your Own Venus” is from Dana’s The Living Planets, available here.
 James Hillman, “Pink Madness,” Spring 57, Connecticut: Spring 1995, p. 41.
 Michel Gauquelin is a French statistician and astrologer who demonstrated the strength of planets within ten degrees on either side of the angles.
 Pema Chodron, Awakening Compassion, (Sounds True Audio, 1995)