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καλλίστῃ : Venus and Eris

Mark Andrew Holmes has suggested Eris could be a higher octave of Jupiter while Roy MacKinnon seems to favour Uranus. These resonances are evident, but it's my view that Eris is a higher octave of Venus. A Venus colouration to Eris does occur through the present position of Eris's North node and perihelion in the Venus-ruled signs of Taurus and Libra, but I believe the two planets' synergistic resonance is absolutely central, emanating from their fundamental nature and essence, and apparent through all manner of diverse expressions. Not only that, but an appreciation of Eris can lead to a far clearer understanding of Venus's true nature. This article describes and illustrates some of the resonances between them.

Eris and Dysnomia

Artist's impression of Eris and her moon Dysnomia by Thierry Lombry

Detail from Botticelli's The Birth of Venus

Detail from Botticelli's The Birth of Venus

“ I tell you: one must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. ”
Friedrich Nietzsche

Eris, the Greek goddess of discord, is often credited with starting the Trojan War. Alone among the Olympians, she was excluded from the arranged marriage of Peleus and Thetis because of her troublemaking inclinations. But exclusion was no deterrent. She tossed the Apple of Discord into the party, a golden apple inscribed καλλίστῃ (kallistei) – "to the fairest" – provoking Hera, Athena and Aphrodite to begin quarreling about the appropriate recipient. Paris, Prince of Troy, was appointed judge. Each of the three goddesses immediately attempted to bribe him. Hera offered political power; Athena promised skill in battle; and Aphrodite tempted him with the most beautiful woman in the world: Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta. While Greek culture placed a greater emphasis on prowess and power (Athena and Hera's domain), Paris chose to award the apple to Aphrodite (= Venus), thereby dooming his city, which was destroyed in the war that ensued when the Spartans demanded the return of their queen.

This is the defining mythological link between the two goddesses which, it could be argued, was already determined in advance in the choice of both the apple – apples being sacred to Aphrodite – and its inscription, Aphrodite being the goddess of beauty, truth, harmony and proportion (among other things). The golden apple encapsulates the essential resonance between Eris and Venus, highlighting the central importance of the number 5 to both energies.


Eris (strife personified) is depicted as a goddess with winged shoulders and feet. Vase painting c575-525 BCE in the collection of Antikensammlung, Berlin, Germany

Venus/Aphrodite is also associated with love, creativity, emotional processes and attitudes, how we give value and meaning to life experience, and social attitudes and behaviour. In essence, as Robert Hand points out, Venus embodies the archetype of attraction; a force which arises from within entities as an expression of their intrinsic nature, and bonds them because they are sympathetic, complementary and synergistic, not because some external containing or coercive force has brought them together.

Both the Aztecs and Babylonians saw the planet in dual aspect. As the morning star, Venus was regarded as benefic, but as the evening star, malefic, representing what we might now call the Jungian shadow. Interestingly, in medieval astrology the attribution was reversed. The morning star – Lucifer, the light-bringer (Gr. Eosphorus) – came to be seen as malefic and the evening star (Vesper Gr. Hesperus) as heralding good fortune. Lucifer, of course, has been blamed for a fair amount of mischief in his time.

In psychodynamic terms, applying the idea of complementarity and synergy to the Lucifer-Vesper duality is nothing less than the integration of the shadow elements of psyche to allow the complete and authentic creative expression of the individual. Independent, autonomous, individual – all keywords which resonate with the number 5, and with Eris.

The deeper meaning of Eris is explored in some length in another article in this section, Eristically Speaking, and highlighted in the themes underpinning the proving of Mt Roineabhal Summit Rock essence which was undertaken at the time of Eris's discovery announcement. The essence chart featured Eris conjunct the IC. The issues with individual and cultural identity which featured in the proving resonate strongly with keywords for the planet identified by astrologers such as Roy MacKinnon, Zane Stein and Philip Sedgwick.

DIS-CORD (lit. "hearts apart") is not just about strife. Fundamentally, it's about dissimilar resonance, and relates to breaking the ties of conditioning – the customs, rules and laws that bind us societally and culturally as well as individually. It's about the challenge to think for ourselves and to REAL-ise our deeper "truer" natures (ie. our genius, which relates to the 5-series aspects – the 72° angular relationship – in astrology). It's about creating the dissonances in belief systems that shake them at their foundations and wake us up to the full extent of our being and our connection to the entirety of existence.

Breaking ties, customs, rules and laws that bind us societally, culturally and individually might seem to be superficially anti-Venusian, but look closer. Mostly such ties are imposed constraints rather than growing naturally out of fundamental inner sympathy and synergy. Externalised containing and coercive forces have more to do with Mars, Saturn and Pluto than Venus-Eris. They lack the necessary inner authority and autonomy.

Or our bindings can arise out of a sea of mutual projections which, although giving a temporary appearance of genuine complementarity, are in reality no such thing. Venus has nothing to do with the idealised and romanticised projections of positive aspects of shadow so often mistaken for "true" love and connection between individuals. Her domain is the force of attraction that ensures the projection returns to its owner for integration. Eris, in her Zen-style unleashing of destabilising chaos, is consequently deeply supportive of Venus's imperative, clarifying it, refining it, elevating it above the mires of projection and counter-projection, keeping it true and truthful. If this puts an altogether different perspective on the apple of your eye, then you've these energies to thank for upsetting that particular apple cart and bringing it all back home.

Discord, dissonance, differences of opinion, are not of themselves problematic. What creates the problem is the idea that "there can be only one" which is "right" (itself a projection of the individual's urge towards integration, unification, individuation, autonomy) and that there has to be a single collective consensus interpretation, so Eris and her chaotic mischief constantly undermine this perceived need for uniformity of outlook, the hegemony of the established order, and the tyranny and preciousness of ego identity along with it. She embodies cognitive dissonance, inviting us to go beyond superficial understanding to a deeper, more fundamental, more authentic level of reality which is essentially Venusian in its integrated, harmonious and fruitful nature.

In Greek mythology Eris is closely identified with Enyo, the goddess of war and consort/female counterpart/sister of Ares/Mars. (Homer doesn't even distinguish between them.) In both Greek and Roman myth, Venus/Aphrodite is also found frequently consorting with Mars/Ares, a more natural complement to her energies than his brother, her husband, the dour, ugly and humourless god of smithing, Vulcan/Hephaestos.

St George and the dragon

St George and the dragon by Rogier van der Weyden

Dragon tales

The native peoples of Mesoamerica equated Venus with their god Quetzalcoatl, the "Feathered Serpent". While Quetzalcoatl's role and attributes change from people to people and through time, the feathered/winged serpent is the dragon. Dragons in mythology frequently embody either primordial chaos itself (eg. Tiamat), or some underpinning or bridge-like function within the organising imperative that brings form, order and harmony to that primordial chaos (eg. Quetzalcoatl, Aido Hwedo). As an embodiment of primordial chaos, the dragon clearly demonstrates its resonance with Eris, while in its harmonising role it shows its kinship to Venus.

In the myth of St George and the dragon (and other similar dragon myths stretching back into the Proto-Indo-European mists of time) the hero confronts the dragon that's been terrorising the community, creating disharmony and discord, and requiring continual bloodshed in the form of sacrifices of livestock and children. He rescues the dragon's latest prospective victim, the king's virgin daughter, by wounding the dragon. The dragon is then instantly tamed by fastening the girl's girdle around its neck. The hero returns both the king's daughter and the tamed dragon to the people, at which point the dragon is slain (and the myth is corrupted into a Christian conversion story).

Interpreting this story as an allegory of the process of individuation, the story depicts the taming and reintegration of the chaotic destructive elemental aspects of the psyche by allowing the female principle its freedom to bring about harmony, creativity, authenticity, ie. the genius of the individual. This process represents the positive expressions of both Venus and Eris, and connects strongly to the 5-series aspects and the pentagon/pentagram which simultaneously resonate with both the witchy occult, chaotic, destructive, Luciferian tendency and the flowering of the creative human intellect.

Antoni Gaudí's Casa Batlló, 43 Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona

Antoni Gaudí's Casa Batlló, 43 Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona

Manzana de la Discòrdia

There is a wonderfully succinct and distinct encapsulation of the combined Venus-Eris themes of genius, discord, beauty, harmony, proportion, social cohesion and breaking with custom and practice, solidly grounded in a single block of buildings on Barcelona's Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample district of the city. It even brings in the myth of St George and the dragon.

In the late 19th/early 20th century, the bourgeoisie of Barcelona competed with each other to commission ever more extravagant apartment blocks as a reflection of the city's wealth (Venus) and exuberant nationalistic pride in its Catalan identity (Venus and Eris). By far the most distinctive of these buildings were designed by the city's modernista architects. The block between Consell de Cent and Carrer d'Aragó contains 3 exceptional buildings. Number 35 is the Casa Lleó-Morera, designed by Domènech i Montaner and completed in 1905. Casa Amatller at number 41 was completed in 1908 and designed by Puig i Cadafalch. The extraordinary Casa Batlló at number 43 was created by Antoni Gaudí in 1906 and is said to represent the triumph of Sant Jordi (St George, the patron saint of Barcelona) over the dragon with its heaving roof (the dragon's back), scaly skin of mosaic tiles, windows (the bones of victims), and tower (the saint's lance).

This block of buildings is collectively known as the Manzana de la Discòrdia – the Apple of Discord.

The association between dragons and apples crops up elsewhere too. In the Eleventh Labour of Hercules, Hercules is sent to collect 3 immortality-giving golden apples from the tree in the Garden of the Hesperides guarded by the many-headed dragon Ladon. After going to great lengths to find the garden, Hercules tricks the Titan Atlas, who holds the world on his shoulders (reminiscent of the role of the dragon Aido Hwedo in Dahomian myth), into slaying the dragon for him and collecting the apples. In another version, Hercules himself kills Ladon. It's perhaps significant as well that the number 11 is regarded as a master number.

Chute Causeway formation, July 26 2007

Photo © Steve Alexander

Crop circle at Chute Causeway

Photo © Steve Alexander

Chute Causeway formation, July 26 2007

Centre point of the formation

Chute Causeway formation, July 26 2007

Swirled nest in star point


I first came across the synergistic resonance between Venus and Eris in the shape of a crop circle which was discovered on July 26 2007 close to the Roman road at Chute Causeway in Hampshire, and which I visited on July 29. The formation appeared as both Venus and Eris were turning retrograde – Eris turned on July 18, Venus on July 27. Being as a retrograde period is viewed astrologically as a time during which the psychological archetypes represented by the planet in question have an inward focus and call for review and reflection, it was striking that all the outer stars in the formation were inward-looking – oriented such that they pointed in toward the centre of the formation. 5 is a number with strong associations to both Venus and Eris. The crop formation comprised 3 pentagons; the outer, larger and lighter, with the darker inner contained within it – the psyche and its shadow? – and at their centre the third lighter pentagram containing the 5-pointed star that represents both Venus's cycle (below) and the core of the apple in cross section associated with Eris.

On entering the circle, its energetic impact was immediately and strongly apparent. What's more, the energy in each of the 5 main outer stars was different. As we walked the lay, first following the outer perimeter, then the outer boundary of the inner pentagon (or inner boundary of the outermost stars), then the central part of the formation, we were instantly aware of changes in energy the minute we moved from one star to the next. The lay ran clockwise. Around the outer perimeter it simply followed the outline of the formation, but around the inner boundaries of the stars the lay looped back on itself in some of the points. We started in the most south-easterly star (number 1 in the picture left) and mapped our impressions and sensations as we circled the formation.

Venus goes into retrograde motion relative to the Earth infrequently and briefly – once every 18 months or so for just a little over a month at a time. Its 584-day cycle completes 5 rounds every 8 years, tracing a 5-pointed star or pentagram around the ecliptic and conforming to the ratio of the Golden Mean. This cycle was known and monitored by both the Mayans and the Babylonians. (See John Major Jenkins' work here and here.)

Venus relates to how we give value and meaning to life experience. Attempting to attribute value and meaning to a Venusian formation thus becomes a somewhat self-referential and recursive process, particularly when the geometry of the formation is itself recursive! Yet it's that very self-referential recursive process which maintains the identity and unique 'genius' of an individual or collective identity (see the essays Unscientific Attachment and Holed in One), honed by chaotic Erisian challenges into completely authentic expression.

There are other Venus resonances in this formation. The total of 225 grapeshots equals Venus's 225-day year. The key angles in the formation of 36° and multiples of 36° (72° and 108°) echo the steps of 36 days or multiples of 36 that feature in each Venus cycle. Maximum brightness occurs 36 days after the inferior conjunction; the next step, maximum elongation, occurs 36 days later; and the superior conjunction occurs 216 days (6 x 36 days) after maximum elongation. In the evening star phase, maximum elongation occurs 216 days after the superior conjunction; maximum brightness takes place 36 days following maximum elongation and 36 days more brings the inferior conjunction. (See article.)

The geometrical concordances were promising, but I was left wondering where the energetic qualities of each star might come into the picture since none seemed characteristic of Venus. (It didn't escape me that the drive to attribute value and meaning to the formation was itself a Venusian urge!) While thinking of keywords to characterise the different energies, the words 'cardinal', 'mutable' and 'fixed' came into my head. Still without seeing quite where this was going, I figured it might be interesting to see if I could pin the energetic qualities down to the astrological triplicities and quadruplicites and hence to signs and their ruling planets. It was unexpectedly straightforward, though I initially had the two fire signs the other way round, prompted by our starting point in the formation (Aries = beginnings) rather than a more precise appreciation of the exact qualities of the energies. But as soon as I reversed them (the explosiveness of star 4's energy is far more Martian than solar), it was immediately apparent that the energetic signatures of each of the 5 stars in the formation exactly echoed the pattern, position and order of the signs in the pentagram formed by Venus's inferior conjunctions over this 8-year cycle – see below.

The diagram shows the approximate orientation of the formation (within a 10° margin of error). The numbers in the stars are the order in which we walked the lay (see original blog entry for a fuller description of the energies we encountered) and the keywords the qualities of energy experienced in each, together with astrological signs (and their ruling planets) that felt appropriate for each of them.

Crop circle at Chute Causeway

Compare this with the pattern of Venus's inferior conjunctions between 2001 and 2007.

Venus cycle of inferior conjunctions 2001-07

In the context of this pattern and Venus's retrograde motion at the time of the circle's formation, it was interesting that we unknowingly started our walk of the circle in the star representing what was then the forthcoming inferior conjunction in Leo on August 18. (The point of entry to the formation was from the tramlines at the northernmost tip of the formation, so there was no obvious logic to our choice.) From that starting point we effectively walked back in time through a repeated dying and rebirthing of Venus as Lucifer, the light-bearer, a process within Eris's domain in her kinship to Pluto.

The juxtaposition of Venus and Eris – harmony and disharmony, accord and discord – and both in retrograde motion and encapsulated in the 5-fold recursive geometry of this formation, emphasised the process of internalised self-reflection and self-creation, the only route to full authenticity.

"I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among the dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun."
William Butler Yeats, The Song of the Wandering Aengus

Pentamerous nature

There is something deeply satisfying, rich, fruitful, harmonious, soulful about 5-fold symmetry. It is the adundance and wealth of Venus and the pregnant potential of the authentic spirit called out of bondage by Eris.

As W A Mathieu writes in his seminal work Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony from its Natural Origins to its Modern Expression,

Five is the next prime number after three. Just as three is an entire world more than two, five opens a new, "prime" realm of experience not definable by anything previous to it. Human thought is permeated with the five mystery. There are five elements—earth, air, fire, water and the fifth, quintessence, the spirit of all the others. There are five directions—north, south, east, west and center. A true five is a pentacle, a pentagon, a five-pointed star. Cut an apple or a quince through its equator and examine the fivefold symmetry of the seed cavity. Let your eye be drawn into a five-petalled wildflower. In pentamerous nature, the stability and purity of triple nature has been filled in by a fullness we can feel.

Johannes Kepler said that you can account for the nature of fruit blossoms not only by contemplation of their beauty but also by contemplation of the number five, which characterises the soul of these plants. "The fruit from a pentamerous blossom becomes fleshy, as in apples and pears, or pulpy, as in roses and cucumbers, the seed concealed inside the flesh or pulp." He emphasises the especially fecund quality of five by noting that from a hexamerous (six-sided) blossom "nothing is born except a seed in a dry cavity."

Eris is not the only goddess inclined to meddling in the course of events by tossing golden apples. In Cyprus there grew a tree bearing golden apples in a garden sacred to Venus/Aphrodite. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses the goddess speaks of it ...

And in a field there stands a golden tree,
Shining with golden leaves and branches rustling
With the soft click of gold, and golden apples
Are the fruit of that golden tree. I came from there
With three such apples in my hand and no one
Saw me…

Venus gave the apples to Hippomenes who had asked for her help in his race with Atalanta, a far faster runner than he (and any other suitor who had attempted to beat her), in order to win her hand. Hippomenes, tossed the apples one by one as Atalanta neared the finish line ahead of him. She paused, paused again, and again, to retrieve them, and as a result Hippomenes just managed to cross the finish line first and win his bride.

However, Hippomenes failed to thank the goddess for her help and the newly weds were turned into lions for his dreadful omission. Some versions of the legend consigned them to pulling the chariot of Cybele (the Earth Mother).

Exclusion is not an option for either Venus or Eris, it seems. Their imperative will not, cannot be ignored. It's essential, in all senses of the word, a fact highlighted by the conformation of the pattern of Venus's retrograde cycle to the Golden Mean, the foundational ratio of embodied lifeforms on Earth. As for the apples, they seem to just underline the extent to which this is a core process in the achievement of the full potential of the human condition.

To the fairest ...


© W Howard, March 2008
Astrology :: καλλίστῃ : Venus and Eris
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