As of Friday December 5th, the planet Venus moved to a position greater than 10 degrees from the Sun, officially ending its combust period and, theoretically, becoming visible again in the western sky just after sunset. Personally, I haven’t seen it yet, but as the month progresses and Venus continues to move farther away from the Sun it will get easier to see and remain longer in the western sky before setting. Venus has an interesting orbit, called its synodic period, which takes 584 days to complete. During this period of 584 days, Venus appears as the “morning star” in the east for 263 days and then disappears from the heavens for 50 days as it passes close to the Sun; then reappears in the western sky as the “evening star” for another 263 days, again disappearing as it nears the Sun—this time for only 8 days—before once again being reborn as the “morning star”. The synodic cycle of Venus was so confusing to the ancient Egyptians that they thought they were looking at two different “stars”. The Indians and the Greeks, as well as the Mayans, realized that the “morning star” and “evening star” were one and the same. They were all mathematical people and figured out the orbit of Venus through close observation over a long period of time. It is interesting how these different cultures viewed the effects of Venus. In India Shukra (Venus) is a male deity conceived from the semen of Shiva. He is the guru of the Daityas, the sons of Diti (the divided) and the sage Kashyapa. The Daityas are sometimes referred to as demons—giving them a rather negative association—but they are considered to be a necessary counterpart to the Devas to maintain balance in the universe. The Devas represent the principle of unity and the Daityas, being the sons of Diti (the divided), represent multiplicity, which is also characteristic of humanity. Shukra’s job is to make sure that the Daityas are interested enough in each other to reproduce, but also to teach the “Dharma Shastras”—the rules governing social conduct. Out of all the planets only Shukra has the power to restore the dead to life through the mystic charm of the life giving nectar, Mritasanjivani. In ancient Greece, Venus was known as Aphrodite, the goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility. According to Hesiod’s Theogeny Aphrodite was born of the foam from the sea after Cronos (Saturn) castrated his father, Ouranus (Uranus), and his blood fell to the sea. The Mayans have a totally different take on Venus, considering it to be a masculine, baleful symbol associated with a violent, spear carrying deity called Lahun Chan, depicted with the head of a jaguar and the body of a dog. The reappearance of Venus was thought to herald the onset of malefic forces such as famines, droughts, wars, etc. Amongst the Mayans, human sacrifice was commonly practiced to appease the violent spirit of Venus and wars were sometimes fought for the specific purpose of taking prisoners who would become these sacrificial offerings. There is speculation that some catastrophic event in early Mayan history—the impact of a comet, massive flooding, an earthquake, etc.—coincided with a particular Venus transit and left a lasting impression on the culture, and a deep fear and mistrust of Venus.
Speaking of the Mayans, I’m looking forward to my annual visit to Maya Tulum for a yoga retreat from January 31st to February 7th. If the combination of warm, turquoise Caribbean water, white sand beaches, Mayan ruins, cenotes (fresh water swimming holes created by underground rivers), great food, iguanas and ashtanga yoga sounds appealing to you, I think we still have a couple of rooms left.