Venus is the first or last star to appear in the sky each night depending on its orbit. As either the Evening or the Morning Star it is visible in daylight when the sun is rising or falling. Ancient cultures associated the planet with the goddess of love and war and told myths to explain her place in the night sky.
Venus is the closest planet to Earth and the hottest in the solar system. Though a similar size and mass, its surface is thick with carbon dioxide and burning sulphur. Venus is therefore the most vibrant body in the night sky after the moon and is often visible from earth when the sun is rising or setting.
The planet’s name is Roman but the goddess it represents is far older. Since the third millennium BC, Mediterranean cultures associated her with the Queen of Heaven archetype. As she was the most beautiful of all the gods, Venus was the brightest of all the stars.
The ancient Sumerians were the first people to study the night sky. They recognised the Morning and Evening Stars were the same planet and explained why she rose and fell through story.
Later cultures thought the stars were different bodies. A common myth developed in the ancient Mediterranean around the Evening Star. The Morning Star was the Queen of Heaven, and the Evening Star was her lover, the Dying God. Different cultures gave them different names, but the story remained more or less the same.
The Queen of Heaven
- Sumerian: Innana
- Babylonian/Assyrian: Ishtar
- Egyptian: Isis
- Phonecian: Astarte
- Greek: Aphrodite
- Roman: Venus
The Dying God:
- Sumerian: Dummuzid
- Babylonian/Assyrian: Tammuz
- Egyptian: Osiris
- Phonecian: Adonai
- Greek/Roman: Adonis
The Queen of Heaven takes the Dying God as her lover. In the Egyptian myth, he is an existing god, in the Tammuz/Adonis tradition, he is a beautiful mortal. When he dies, the Queen of Heaven weeps and descends into the underworld to bring him back. The oldest form of this myth is the Sumerian text ‘Innana’s Descent into the Underworld’ (c.2000 BC), which appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (AD 8) as the tale of Aphrodite and Adonis. The Osiris Myth (c.2400 BC) is even older.
The Evening Star represents the Dying God, destined to burn brightly at evening then fade into the night sky to be reborn again. As Venus closely orbits the sun, the Evening Star ‘falls’ into the horizon a few hours after sunset.
Pythagoras rediscovered the Evening and Morning Stars were the same in the 6th century BC. Despite this, they retained their mythical significance.
The Latin name for the Evening Star was Lucifer. When the Romans became Christian, they reinterpreted the falling star as an angel. Lucifer fell from heaven and thus was associated with the Devil. Over a thousand years later, English Poet John Milton expanded on this idea in his epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’ which details Lucifer’s rebellion against God and his becoming Satan.
Though the cult of Adonis died out, Venus retained its association with the Morning Star and the Queen of Heaven archetype. The alchemical symbol for Venus is the modern symbol for the female gender.
Sources: Jeff Cooley – Inana Sukelatuda, Inana’s Descent into the Underworld, Universe Today
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