The email came from the friend of a friend. She was seeking insight into Aphrodite, a Goddess about whom she knew little and with whom she had even less experience. Would I be willing to share some of my own experiences with the Goddess, any insights I had gained? In attempting to answer her questions, I found myself calling forth old memories, and coming face-to-face with some ugly, shallow assumptions about the Goddess that unfortunately continue to persist within both the Hellenic and larger Pagan communities today — in particular, assumptions about “beauty.”
In my mid-twenties, I experienced a short (but important) devotional period focussed on Aphrodite. Prior to that, the most important Deities in my life had been Artemis and Apollo. Aphrodite acted as something akin to a bridge or a guide. Artemis and Apollo were the Gods of my childhood. They remain important to me to this day, but Aphrodite opened my heart and my mind, allowing me to make room in my life for other Deities.
During that brief devotional period, I read everything I could find on Aphrodite, even if it was only tangentially related to the Goddess: Carol P Christ’s Laughter of Aphrodite and Odyssey With the Goddess; the interior design book Goddess At Home by A Bronwen Llewellyn; Manuela Dunn Mascetti’s Goddess Wisdom and Ginette Paris’ Pagan Meditations; I reread the chapter on the Church of Aphrodite in Drawing Down the Moon over and over; sadly, I was never able to find a copy of Grigson’s The Goddess of Love or Friedrich’s The Meaning of Aphrodite. Each of these books, and many others that I consulted, only lightly touched on that aspect of Aphrodite which I found most compelling: her role as Goddess of Beauty.
As Aphrodite became more important in my life, I in turn became much, much more interested in beautiful things: clothes, shoes, jewelry, furniture, perfume, soaps, artwork, statues, architecture — anything that brought beauty into the world. The world can be an ugly, ugly place; this can be a world of misery and disaster and hatred and fear. But it is also a world that is filled not only with natural-born beauty — mountain peaks wreathed in fog, snow-fed streams, iridescent hummingbirds, fawns in the dusk — but also with human-made beauty. And it is that beauty — the beauty that we manifest in creation — which Aphrodite particularly inspires.
Some people are (unfortunately) under the misapprehension that this love of beauty is the equivalent of greed and materialism. That is not the case. The beauty inspired by Aphrodite is not wads of cash and garish bling. Hers is the beauty of a well-worn homemade blanket handed down from your grandmother. A simple home cooked meal and pleasant conversation. An origami dove. A necklace of seashells. A scrap of satin ribbon turned into a hair bow. A vase of dried wild flowers. A watercolor painting. A hand-carved maple chair.
Even beyond the creation of beauty, Aphrodite inspires a greater appreciation for — and recognition of — the importance of beauty in our lives. She inspires the couturier in his designs, but also inspires in us the desire to oohh and aahh and stare and absorb and bring that beauty and grace into ourselves. To hang that oil painting in the living room and share it with friends. To donate those colorful quilts to the local homeless shelter, and bring that bright beauty into the lives of those who most need it.
Aphrodite is The Beautiful One. She is Beauty, but also that Power which inspires the creation of and appreciation for beauty. Hers is a divine gift, a precious grace — which is, sadly, under-appreciated and misunderstood, and which the world desperately needs.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of Eternal Haunted Summer.]