Sunday, 27 January 2013

Venus – Goddess of Love and Life

"Cupid Undoing Venus' Belt by Reynolds (c. 1788)
Few among the red-blooded (Pagan) women of today can resist the allure of Venus. She is among the most celebrated of all the Goddesses, evidenced by the incredible number of artworks that have been made in her honour. Her blessing is that worth courting, for she is the divine embodiment of sexual love and fertility. One of the things that makes her so appealing is that she seems to celebrate female sexuality, but this great Goddess is not just about sex, she is also about love, and about divine, life-affirming protection. Here follows a look at some ancient sources dealing with Venus, so to help us understand her multi-faceted nature a little better.

Venus and ladies of the night
As a Goddess associated so closely with sex it is no surprise that ancient Romans associated her with sex work. In Plautus’ Poenulus one character says: 
“It's the Aphrodisia [a Greek festival in honour of Venus’ Hellenic counterpart Aphrodite – the play is set in Greece] … today, at the temple of Venus, there's a fair for the courtesans; there the dealers meet”. 
Similarly, Ovid describes a festival in honour of Venus (and Jupiter) celebrated by Roman prostitutes (as well as all Roman women). It was the Vinalia – a wine making festival – which took place on 23 April:
“Street girls, celebrate the divinity of Venus; Venus boosts the profits of working girls. Request beauty and public favour with your incense, request seductive charm and playful words. Give your mistress pleasing mint and her own myrtle and wicker baskets covered in roses. Now you should pack the temple near the Porta Collina … [Ovid, Fasti, Book IV, 865-872]”
And then there is Horace’s Ode to Venus:
O Venus, the queen of Cnidus* and Paphos [mythical birthplace of Aphrodite], spurn your beloved Cyprus, and summoned by copious incense, come to the lovely shrine of my Glycera [a Greek word denoting a sophisticated and educated courtesan].  
And let that passionate boy of yours, Cupid, and the Graces with loosened zones, and the Nymphs, and Youth, less lovely without you, hasten here, and Mercury too.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Nature of Mercury

Bronze pendant of Mercury, circa 100-300 CE (2.5cm x 1.9cm)
Something I have noticed whenever I find a book about pre-Christian religions of Europe is that there is very little written up about the nature of each of the Gods themselves. This is undoubtedly because scholars are more interested in what ancient religion can tell us about ancient societies, rather than to know or understand the Gods themselves. However, like many Pagans I seek to understand both the Gods and the people who believed in them and, like many Pagans, there are certain Deities for whom I feel a strong pull towards – in my case Mercury is prominent among these Gods – and so I have read up as much as I can about this most wonderful of Gods and here share my knowledge as best as I can.

The first thing to do when looking to the nature of Mercury (or Mercurius, as the Romans knew him) is to look to the ancient sources. Fortunately we have a fairly good idea of how the Romans perceived him, as there are a number of ancient descriptions relating to him. For example, he is playfully written in as a character in Amphitryo by Plautus. He says:
“… you wish me … to endow you with profit in all the purchasing and purveying of your wares, and to assist you in all your affairs; and … you wish me to speed a happy outcome for you all in your matters of business both at home and in foreign lands and to increase for evermore with fine and glorious profit those endeavours which you have begun and those which you are about to begin; and … you wish me to endow you and yours, every one, with glad tidings, bringing before you and proclaiming only those things which may contribute to your common weal (for verily you have long known that it is an honour granted and bestowed upon me by the other gods that I should hold sway over messages and profit) … [cited in Beard et al, Religions of Rome: Volume 2: A Sourcebook at 29]”