Posts Tagged ‘venus’
Get outside this Tuesday and witness one of the most marvelous, magickal astronomical events of your lifetime!
Every eighty or so years, the orbits of the earth, the sun, and the planet Venus line up so that those of us here can view Venus sailing across the fiery depths of our central star. It happens as a paired event, so eight years ago you had a chance to watch the first half and over the 5th and 6th of June this week(depending on your location) you have a chance to watch this second, final half. Sadly, given the length of time between the sets, it is unlikely that the majority of the current world population alive to see the event today will live to see the next one in 2117 CE.
But why is this magickally significant? As a major, visible alignment of some very unlikely celestial orbits: transits are remarkable for the beauty of their phenomena and for the implications of the movement of their solar dance, both culturally and astrologically. And in this case, where it is a confluence between the sun, Venus, and the earth, there are a plethora of positive magickal symbolisms which can be extracted from their opportune meeting. And in 2012, the so-called year of the apocalypse: the more positive meanings that can be extruded to counterbalance the negative, the better!
‘Men are from Mars, Woman are from Venus.’
Popularized as a book title in the late twentieth century, this phrase already explicitly explained something most people inherently recognized about Venus: its femininity. From time immemorial, man and womankind has looked up at the planet Venus, burning brightly as the morning ‘star’ and associated it with womanhood and with love. The ancient Mesopotamians associated it with Inanna and Ishtar, their queenly goddesses of fertility and feminine wiles. The Greeks and Romans associated it with their goddesses Aphrodite and Venus, the latter of whom it gets its name directly of. The planet Venus is, indeed, the only feminine planet in our solar system ~ the rest of the planets are named after male mythological figures. Other than the singular stunning exception of Venus, only the moons of our planets reference female figures. Later associations between the morning ‘star’, a.k.a Venus rising and the association with dark forces like the Christian devil, were later attempts to villanize the sanctity of the brightly lit planet for earlier pagan cultures.
As a representative of feminine ideas of fertility and growth, its transit across the sun, as viewable from earth, has widespread implications of abundance and innovation for those on earth. Indeed, many of the previous known transits of Venus have occurred at peak times during the late Renaissance and Enlightenment. The last series of transits occurred just around the time various marvelous things were being invented, like the telephone. Unfortunately, the phenomena has only been seriously noted for its last four transits (i.e. since the invention of the telescope), though it has been passing us by all along and would have been potentially noticeable under certain circumstances. Any earlier mentions of it have yet to be reconciled with the historic event. However a lack of a historic record does not mean that the superstition and mythical meaning of the event went unremarked upon. It merely means that the modern world has not been able to hold on to this information.
It may also signal a high point in lovability. And may represent the need for mankind to focus in on preserving the own environment and womb of our friendly mother earth.
Whether you watch to support its myriad of magickal messages, or merely just to witness this most astounding of natural events (carefully though! Don’t ever look directly at the sun!): do try to catch a glimpse of this rare celestial phenomena!
For more general information, as well as where and when to try to catch the transit, and how best to watch it, check out the Transit of Venus website devoted to the event.
For more information on the astrological meaning of the transit and its historical confluences, check astrologist Alison Chester-Lambert’s excellent blog out on the topic.
For more information on the science of the transit, including an explanation of the orbits which results in its rarity, check out the BBC’s video on the topic and look forward to the eventual digital premiere of their documentary Horizon: The Transit of Venus.
Caption for top photo: Botticelli’s 1486 painting The Birth of Venus depicts Venus rising fully grown from the sea, just as the morning star, the planet Venus, rises from the sea at the distant horizon.
My personal favorite types of archaeological sites are those that have been built up over the ages: used, reused, redefined by new times and adapted by new generations. Those in my class will recognize this as a vague version of my archaeological byword the “palimpsest.” These layered sites and landscapes are all the more exciting and intriguing when they involve ritual sites, particularly ones which are still in use in the modern world. It speaks of a strong continuation of belief and power. And even when the original tenets of primordial worship and elements of esoteric ceremony have been long forgotten, the use of the site as a ritual focus lingers on: imbuing the landscape with the collective power of human faith.
Northern Mexico’s Tamtoc is one such site which has recently been propelled into the limelight by Archaeology magazine’s July/August 2010 article highlighting its recent finds and ongoing anthropological studies.
The earliest levels of Tamtoc are easily 2,500 years old and date to an early pre-Hispanic culture about which little is known. The people of this earliest layer of occupation, circa 400 BCE, lived in a tightly packed, small urban center; what Tamtoc’s lead archaeologist, Guillermoc Cordova, refers to as an “urban embryo,” centered round a group of springs just off a bend in the Tampaon River. “Tamtoc” means ‘Place of the Deep Black Water’ in the later local Teenek dialect. And as one might suspect, based on what we’ve covered so far, Tamtoc was rich in water cults.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the city’s early focus was on its collection of springs. One spring features evidence of a small temple or sweat lodge built on an elevated platform hovering over its water, while its periphery features more utilitarian platforms most likely utilized by the local populace to access the water in the springs for consumption. These more practical platforms are, however decorated with the swirls, hooks, and furrows which characterize the decorative themes of the period on the city’s monumental stones. A second spring features carved depictions of a pair of flamingoes and a pair of running legs.
The images carved in the slab are admittedly morbid, yet hauntingly meaningful: the central image is that of a skull-masked priestess presiding over the ritual decapitation of two other female figures. But despite their macabre appearance, they are meant to be symbolic of both female fertility and the ostensible circle of life. Note in particular the two birds that are transformed from the stylized jets of sacrificial blood and which hover around the waist of the priestess. The figures are also placed on the stone in a microcosmic representation of the realms of the living and the dead. The decapitated figures are sinking into the underworld, becoming the denizens of its shadowy depths and adopting its skeletal footwear while the priestess, on the other hand, is pulling herself up out of the underworld and back into the land of the living. The imagery of the slab is suggestive of the nature of the ancient ritual performed before the stone. It seems likely that the priestess and her victims may have ritually been in or under the water of the spring, emphasizing the water’s position as a place between living and death and as something that can both save people and kill them. Erase all the remnants of science and H20 from your mind and imagine yourself back in an ancient culture like that at Tamtoc. What would you think about water? You drink it to live, but if you drink too much, you drown. It helps you grow your crops but at the same time rains down from the heavens and floods them. Water, as seen through the eyes of most ancient cultures, is a tempestuous, mischievous character who must be handled with care and appeased at all costs. The next time you turn on your water facet or hop in your backyard pool, reflect on the seeming control you have over this most marvelous of elements and then remember the recent floods in Tennessee, the devastation of Hurricane Katriana and the 2004 tsunami and how tenuous mankind’s control over water really is. And just think too, that scientists are only beginning to understand what water is, where it comes from, and how it works. Its no wonder that ancient peoples like those at the Tamtoc created elaborate mythologies and occasionally gruesome rituals to try and appease the wily water gods.
The other ancient treasure of the site was found buried in a sturdy stone box in the mud just beneath the slab of sacrificial images. A filler of shells, pottery pieces, and green fluorite (a stone frequently linked with fertility and water veneration in the majority of Mesoamerican cultures) and four female figurines of a similar artistic style to the slab’s image, surrounded a graceful, life-style female torso. Made from the same sandstone as the slab, its artistic style is unprecedented at the site and more so resembles Old World Hellenic sculptures, thus earning the torso the nickname of ‘Venus.’ The torso was purposefully severed from its limbs (some sections of which also were included in the box) as part of what is presumed to be a ritual dismemberment prior to its burial/sacrifice next to the sacred spring. Its sheer remarkable presence is an anomaly in ancient Mesoamerican archaeology as it does not resemble the artefacts of contemporary Mesoamerican cultures of its contemporary 2500 years ago or since then. It most likely represents the religious expression of one artistic savant within their community or else unprecedented cultural interaction at the time of early Tamtoc.
Despite the rich level of religious evidence found, the early level of Tamtoc was only occupied for a handful of generations before being abandoned for unknown reasons. Poetically, the slab of sacrificial imagery fell into the mud of the spring sometime prior to or during the city’s desertion; thus preserving it and the box below it for archaeologists to find in the 20th century. The city slept for over a millennia before being rediscovered between 500 and 900 AD, either by a secondary mystery culture or potentially by the descendents of the modern inhabitants of the region, a branch of the Mayan linguistic family known as the Teenek. This second rebirth of the city saw the creation of raised circular and rectangular platforms topped with houses and temples, and a new city center, away from the ancient springs. Several of these mounds are believed to have been used specifically for watching the night sky. Excavations of this new city center in the 1960s yielded caches of skeletons and artefacts which were ritually buried beneath the central plaza and its mounds: perhaps as a form of ancestor worship or sacrifice.
However, this new focus did not entirely abandon the ancient springs. Two small ovens of this second phase have been found and are believed to have been used to bake ceremonial foods. The burial of a high status female of advanced age for her society (she was 45 when most people probably wouldn’t see 35) was also found beneath a new structure which had been built near the springs during this period. The woman notably was tall and large boned in comparison to her contemporaries whose skeletons were small and slim, supporting the idea that the rulers of Tamtoc were often not from the same ethnic group as its general population.
By 900 AD Tamtoc was abandoned by its second wave of settlers and lay waiting for its third rebirth: which would occur a mere two centuries later as the Mayan cities of the region collapsed and populations spread outwards, seeking new homes. If the Teenek were not part of the second wave to Tamtoc, they were definitely part of the third wave; along with members of the Nahuas and Otomi tribal groups; and together they are collectively identified as the Huastecs during this time. However, with chaos reigning in the region, the fertility cults and water worship of previous generations of Tamtoc-dwellers gave way to a more militant foci. Most notably in the form of a large stone warrior, standing with his very large and elaborately decorated penis erect, guarding the city’s ceremonial plaza. Recent re-evaluation of the evidence and artefacts collected at the site over the past several decades is indicating more and more that the Huastecs of the third phase and potentially the second phase inhabitants of Tamtoc as well, were in contact with the Southeastern North American cultures like the Late Woodland and Mississippian cultures, best known as the mound-builders of sites like Cahokia. Archaeologists have long been theorizing trade connections and potential migrations between these mysterious and richly religious early Native American peoples and Mesoamerican cultures.
The past aside, Tamtoc is still, today, a vibrant ritual center utilized by the local Teenek Indians. The Teenek feel that performing their rituals at Tamtoc, despite gaps in the continuity of their culture and the sites’, is the best way in which they can honor both their own ancestors and those walked the site before them. Their rituals, they say, have been passed down orally, generation to generation; preserving what they can of the old ways. When Archaeology’s Tom Gidwitz caught up with them last November, they were celebrating Xantolo: the day when the spirits who came to earth on the Day of the Dead at the beginning of the month are sent back to where they came from. The Teenek mount a sunset ceremonial procession, winding through the streets of Tamtoc, decked out in ritual garb (the elders in white and pink, the rest of the men in pink, and the women in black and red), carrying offerings made from cempasuchiles marigolds (known as the Flowers of the Dead) and swinging censors of incense. It culminates in a nighttime dance in the fields just beyond Tamtoc. A modern ritual for an ancient city.
Check out the Archaeology article that inspired this one: Cities upon Cities by Tom Gidwitz
And further articles at the Instituto Nacional de Anthropologia e Historia (INAH) which has several devoted to the specifics of Tamtoc.